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Spotlight on Costume Designers. A Unique Union of Art and History

Updated: Apr 6

Geryl and Thomi Hickey share more than marriage and a love for each other. Their relationship is a unique union of artistic talent with a shared passion for history. This alliance was exactly what the Riddlesbrood Touring Theater Company was looking for when they needed help with costuming for Riddlesbrood’s staged theatrical productions. That was over three years ago, and today the Hickeys and the company are collaborating on their 7th show together . . . an original musical that brings virtual reality, computer gaming, and theater together for the first time, called, “Harken – A Game of Phones.” (for 2015)

Costumes for riddlesbrood Frankenstein
Costumes for riddlesbrood Frankenstein

“Harken’ is the name of the medieval, 'Lord of the Rings-like' world where most of the show takes place,” said Ryan Long, director and owner of Riddlesbrood. The Hickey’s are creating costumes that will emanate the look and feel of this medieval fantasy world. With “Harken,” as with other Riddlesbrood shows they’ve worked on, their expertise in both art and history has been invaluable.”

Costumes for riddlesbrood Darkside show
Costumes for riddlesbrood Darkside Show

Thomi’s love of history and performing started at thirteen when he began participating in Revolutionary War re-enactments. In 1984 Thomi met Geryl at an event in Queens, NY where Geryl was also performing as a re-enactor. They had both made their own costumes. They were married in 1988 and had two daughters who travelled with them often when Thomi appeared in Wild West shows where he threw knives and eventually earned admission into the International Knife Throwing Hall of Fame. Thomi also takes part in Civil War re-enactments and is a member of the Valhalla Pirates performing troupe. Geryl has made many of his costumes. The Hickey’s daughters, Jessie and Lacey, grew up immersed in art, history and creativity. In 2012, Lacey auditioned for Riddlesbrood’s Halloween show at the Strand Theater of the Arts in Lakewood, NJ. When Long discovered that Geryl was an expert at making costumes and was eager to help, she worked on that show and five more after that. Geryl not only makes and accessorizes costumes, but she also assists backstage with her sewing kit, at-the-ready, to fix any emergency; and she makes sure all actors are wearing their costumes properly before going on stage.

Geryl laughed and said, “Ryan calls me his ‘Fabricator. It’s a lot of work, but we have a lot of fun with it, and it’s great when it all comes together.”

Costumes for riddlesbrood Robin Hood
Costumes for riddlesbrood Robin Hood

Although the Hickey’s loyalty lies with Riddlesbrood, they’ve also made costumes, accessories and props for other theaters, and they’ve performed in several shows. Both Jessie, now 18 and in college, and Lacey have acted on-stage. 15-year old Lacey also makes costumes and is an aspiring hair and makeup artist. “She has a great eye for color and fashion,” Geryl added.

For “Harken” the Hickeys are concentrating on costumes for Clyde P. Riddlesbrood and the 5 main teenage characters. They’ll also be recreating Long’s medieval fantasy world vision in wardrobe for numerous other roles that will be performed by actors from the surrounding community and students from the Strand School of the Arts, which is run by Riddlesbrood Touring Theater Company in partnership with The Strand.

“Getting inside someone’s mind and seeing his vision, as he sees it, isn’t always easy.” Thomi said. “Harken’ is Ryan’s dream and he’s been working on it for many years to bring it to the stage. As artists and historians, Geryl and I have had many discussions with Ryan to determine what colors, designs, fabrics, and accessories would accurately communicate his vision. He’s got an incredible imagination, and we consider ourselves fortunate to be involved with him and Riddlesbrood. We never know what challenges will be thrown our way.”

One major challenge the Hickeys have been charged with is designing an elaborate coat for the main character, Clyde P. Riddlesbrood, which will be performed by Ryan Long himself. Without giving too much away, the Hickeys described the coat as having a different “historic look” from multiple angles, and that it may have detachable sleeves. To save time and money, costumes are often formed by re-purposing something else.

“I have an existing coat that I may be able to adapt to make Clyde’s coat,” Geryl explained. We also have some costumes from a previous show that we may be able to reuse. Because we’re on a tight budget, we frequently shop at thrift shops and estate sales and modify existing outfits, but we also make costumes from scratch."

Geryl went on to explain that the design of a costume is not only visual, but is also determined by a character’s actions. If an actor is going to be highly physical on stage, his costume must be strong enough to withstand the activity without tearing or falling apart. Since some of the characters in “Harken” will engage in energetic stage combat, their costumes will need to be indestructible and equipped with hidden padding sewn into the fabric. Geryl also mentioned how important it is for costume designers to work closely with a show’s choreographer to ensure that an outfit moves sufficiently with an actor, especially if there are dance scenes in the show. In addition when a large number of children are involved, Geryl likes to minimize complex changes by simply accessorizing the same outfit to give it a different look for each scene. This also keeps costs down.

“Harken” is the first play you can actually PLAY,” Long said. “As an audience member, you can participate in the show by directing the action on stage from your seat using an innovative Android or IOS app that you’ll download into your smart phone.”

Audience members can choose their favorite character and vote on plot directions, character decisions and other things that will help or hinder their character’s progress through the game. The “better” the audiences' choices, the more points their character wins. Audience members also earn points for a chance to win prizes. Voting is optional. “Harken" is fun for the whole family whether they decide to play or not.

With action-packed adventure, thrilling stage combat scenes, stunning costumes, and lively, original music, “Harken” is an incredible experience like never before. Both regular theater-goers and those who’ve never been to a stage show will be totally immersed into the excitement of the “Harken” experience.

There are only three performances on the main stage at The Strand located at 400 Clifton Avenue, Lakewood, New Jersey: Friday, March 27th at 8pm 2015, and Saturday, March 28th at 2pm and 8pm 2015. There’s also a single performance at the Landis Theater in Vineland, NJ, on Saturday evening, March 21st at 7pm. Because the game is interactive and changes every time it’s played, no two shows are alike, so plan to “play” the show more than once!

Riddlesbrood Touring Theater Company has fifteen years of experience performing murder mysteries, musicals and other original shows such as, “Harken – A Game of Phones.” They’re considered the top touring theater group in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware region.



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