The Importance And Functions Of Costumes As An Inevitable Tool In The Promotion And Development Of Theatrical Performances

Project and Seminar Material for Theatre Arts

The Importance And Functions Of Costumes As An Inevitable Tool In The Promotion And Development Of Theatrical Performances

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

Theatre generally is an ancient art. Therefore, the art of costuming in the theatre is said to be as old as theatre itself.

Theatre is said to be a well organized structural building where performances are carried out.

Costumes, therefore plays an important role in the actualization of a play on stage. As they are seen as the non-verbal elements of a performance, they include the clothes and accessories carried by the actors and actresses on stage; they communicate hidden messages to the audience if well depicted or handled by the costumier. Another exciting career in the theatre is that of a costume designer. A costume designer is the person who plans or designs the costumes to be worn by actors in a theatrical performance.

The shapes, colors, and textures that a costume designer chooses make an immediate and powerful visual statement to the audience.

The creative collaborations among the costumier, director, set and lighting designers and other technical crews ensures that the costumes are smoothly integrated into the production as a whole.

According to Wilson (12) He asserts that;

Theatre is a collaborative art, where the playwright, artistic director, technical designers, performers and audience come together to make a theatre experience.

Costumes are complimentary theatrical elements with various functions; which deals with the personification of characters on stage.

According to The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (262);

Costume is the clothes worn by actors in a play or film/movie or worn by somebody to make them look like something else

Costumes are special kind of clothing’s worn by actors on stage in order to aid dramatic actions and interpretations. Costumes are paramount among other visual elements in the theatre used in relating human experiences to an audience.

According to Barbara and Cletus Anderson (20);

Costume is the clothes worn by actors on stage, whether it be layers of clothing or nothing at all

Costumes can also be derived from every day dress or it can be symbolic; a dress made for a ghost must of necessity depart from the natural dress worn by humans, it is usually symbolic. For example: If a character is costumed in black tunic with horns on his head, by merely seeing that character on stage, what comes to the mind is the picture of the Devil. Costumes are the most personal aspect of the visual elements in theatre. To members of the audience, a performer and his or her costumes are perceived as one, they merge into a single image on stage.

At the same time, costumes have values of their own, adding color, shape, texture, and symbols to the overall effects created on stage.

Accessories such as masks, walking stick, head gear, hairdo, make-up and personal items like bracelets and necklaces, are important components of costumes.

Apart from the theatre, most people think of costumes in terms of the outfits people wear to parties, office, traditional ceremonies and so on.

Like other aspects of the theatre. However, costumes play significant roles in daily life. People wear clothing’s not only for comfort but also for the information they intends to pass across to other people about themselves, such as; status, occupation and culture to mention but a few.

In order, for a play to come alive, the creative dexterity of both the Artistic director and his technical crews must come into play in line with the selection of a good script.

In fact, in the theatre, costumes are means of depicting character given circumstance. Thus, they aid characters actions on stage, thereby portraying the proper character traits required of the actors. Costumes can be used to describe age of the actors, the period of the play, costumes can be used to depict moods, costumes can be used to distinguish occupations, costumes are a cultural marker, costumes can tell the time and weather of the play, Etc.

Therefore, an actor costumes enables the audience to identify the character through appearance and also posse’s visual potentials of information’s which convey meanings to the audience. In plays incorporating history or fable or myth, costumes has the added function of providing spectacles on stage.

The importance of costumes to theatrical performances cannot be over emphasized, despite all challenges and critical comments passed on the practice of costume; it remains the most personal and relatively non-verbal form among other visual elements in the theatre. Hence, it is necessary that playwrights, artistic directors, actors, costumiers, scholars, theatre practitioners must revisit the practice of costume for better recognition as a form of art, that stands on its own; thus, requires adequate attention. Play performances should not take place without consulting a costumier, who organizes a critical sections with the artistic director, cast members and other technical personnel’s before the actual performance. Costumiers are expected to make provisions for the required numbers of costumes to be used for the performance; and it should be ready in good shapes at least a week or two before the performance day, better still they should be tested by the actors. Actors must not be left alone to source for their costumes themselves. Hence, costumes must be seen as an inevitable element of the theatre that posses the strength to inform and express the qualities of a particular play performance.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Costuming among other elements in the theatre ranging from light, sound, props, and set design stands to have more distinctive features because it creates strong visual effects and also communicates hidden meanings to the audience to enhance the total aesthetics of a performance.

Therefore, the major problem associated with theatre practice today includes; the gravity of importance given to dialogue. Thus, costumes as a visual element which would speak strongly about the actions unfolding before the audience are left out. Hence, audiences are bored with dialogues, which in most cases are forgotten within the time of performance. Within this context also, some of the problems examined at a larger scale are; whether, the costumes has used in the performance of The Gods Are Not To Blame depicts the historical setting in the play. How have they assisted in educating, entertaining, and informing the audience and the society at large.

1.3 Significance of the Study

The study aim at facilitating and highlighting the importance and functions of costumes as an inevitable tool in the promotion and development of theatrical Performances.

Secondly, in order to change the attitudes of costumiers, directors, actors and actresses, students, scholars and playwrights towards the use of costumes in theatrical performances. Costume suffers neglect over the years whereby much emphasis was attributed to dialogues and actions. Therefore, little amount of information’s and attentions have being ascribed to costume in most performances. It is believed that dialogues and actions are of greater importance for a clearer message to be passed across to the audience. Finally, this research intends to increase the numbers of existing literatures on the discipline, in order to promote the interest in the field of costume.

1.4 Objectives of the Study

The primary objective of the study is to establish a more interpretative depth to the value of costumes in stage productions has seen in the performance of The Gods Are Not To Blame. The secondary objective of the study is geared towards interrogating the possible dangers that could be encountered by costume designers in designing for theatrical performances in the nearest future. Finally, it also intends to broaden our knowledge on the aesthetics of costumes and the costumiers need for critical and creative handling.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This research study is limited to the usage of costumes in theatrical performances. It is basically a review on a play production that was staged at the Open Air Theatre, University of Abuja in 2014. The Gods Are Not To Blame written by Ola Rotimi and directed by Olympus Ejue.

The research explains the roles or functions of costumes in Theatrical performances, especially in educational theatres. Thus, the research also involves a primary material which is the use of visual presentation. Since costumes are visual elements the need for the use of pictures are necessary in order to aid understanding in my presentation of data.

1.6 Methodology

In the process of realizing the purpose of this research, the researcher made use of the primary and secondary source.

The primary source consists of the visual representations in terms of the pictures of the performance, references from existing literatures on the study of costume, journal, library and internet. The secondary source consists of oral interviews between the researcher with students, costumiers and lecturers,

1.7 Limitation of the Study

Certain setbacks and challenges are faced in the cause of study. These challenges could be seen in the scope of study; as the research only covers the University of Abuja, Open Air Theatre Productions.

As a result of the restrains in the duration of the research, the research study is restricted to the curricular duration of the university, which is Three semesters (from 300 level second semester to second semester 400 level). This might be inadequate for an in depth research required on the study.

1.8 Definition of Terms

(A) Costume:

According to The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (262);

Costume is the clothes worn by actors in a play or film/movie or worn by somebody to make them look like something else

(B) Theatre:

According to Wilson (12) He asserts that;

Theatre is a collaborative art, where the playwright, artistic director, technical designers, performers and audience come together to make a theatre experience.

(C) Culture:

According to Edward, (63) He defines culture as;

The complex whole which includes knowledge beliefs, art, moral laws, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of a society

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The Importance And Functions Of Costumes As An Inevitable Tool In The Promotion And Development Of Theatrical Performances


This research material “The Importance And Functions Of Costumes As An Inevitable Tool In The Promotion And Development Of Theatrical Performances” is for research purposes and should be used as a guide in developing your research project / seminar work. For no reason should you copy word for word (verbatim) as will not be liable for any who copied the material.

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Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation


It is pertinent at this junction to state that costume cannot be remove from theatrical performance. This is because of the important roles it plays for a successfully performance to be achieve.

Costume as one of the basic tool use by actors on stage remains the most personal element to the actors as it is difficult to separate costume from the actors and theatrical performances that large. According to Oscar Brockett, costumes provide understanding and identification of the locale, the period in which the performance is set; has some belongs to a particular time in history. In the past the trend of dressing was not as obscene as it looks today. Fashion which is costume has taken a different trend.

Communicating through the art of costuming is not dogmatic as in the past. Today the fashion world is a large one, therefore, competition rises high among designers (costumier).

Costumes as a non-verbal form of communication in the theatre can be complicated to achieve because apparels has got to do with aesthetics; aesthetics is appreciating the beauty and the ugliness of an art work.

Researching into the elements of costume has been the problem of the costumiers of this present era, as their laxity in carrying out proper research be-fore embarking on designing for a particular performance which falls back at the final outcome of the performance.

According to BertoltBretch, (274) He probes that;

“The theatre is no longer the fantasy house, it has become a think tank or adiscussion hall”

Therefore, a costumier must have at the back of his or her mind that his not just creating for the purpose of aesthetics alone but rather for the intended meanings andinterpretations regarding the play to be passed across to the au-dience correctly. And this can only be achieve by understanding that the ele-ments of costumes in a performance must be meaningful in a way that it would awake the critical reasoning of the spectators; they should make comments.

There was an attempt in the performance of “The Gods Are Not To Blame” to create the desired effect regarding the play, but it was not maintained all through the performance, as costumes were recycled by the actors thereby creating confusing meanings and precisions on the part of the spectators.
According to The Encyclopedia America, (58)

“Costume theatrically isan apparel that is intendsboth to impress an audience and to help the performer to imper-sonate a character

Thus, character should not be wrongly costumed as in the case ofAdero-po, Adetusa and Odewale and many more, there costume does not in any way conform with their status in the play as expected. Likewise, King Adetusa and Odewale, makes the audience to misconstrued their roles in the play; as both of them are seen using the same costume. Queen Ojuola’s hairdo and dress at some particular point was confused for that of a Benin queen. This attitude therefore plays down on the potency of costumes in the performance.

In a nutshell, this research study has been able to prove that the art of costuming surfers neglect in theatrical performances, especially in the educational theatres. This is clearly seen in the performance as discuss above.

Therefore, this call for change, as costumes cannot be totally separated from theatrical performances as they constitutes the primary and also the most personal tool to the performers; they aids the actors performance and add to the beauty of the stage picture. The potency costumes hold in theatrical perfor-mances must be addressed by theatre practitioners including costumiers, as they aid effective communication in the theatre.


In conclusion, costumes have been an inevitable visual element in the theatre from time immemorial, as it stands out distinctive among other visual elements such as light, sound, props, scenic design, etc. Thus, creating a strong visual aids that carries an in-depth story which creates lasting pictures in the mind of the audience. Therefore, it is pertinent to pay adequate attention to these strong visual aids.


It is important to make recommendations on possible ways to salvage the future of costumes in theatrical performances; as a result of the research study conducted on the aesthetics of costumes and it roles in the theatre;
Firstly, it is an established fact that there is little information on the study of costume and as such, theater practitioners especially costumiers are not grounded in the field. Therefore, this research study recommends that students as well as theatre practitioners be equipped with materials on the study; there is the need for constant updates, as the world develops globally on a daily base. The libraries in our institutions should have adequate and updated materials on costume as this will encourage students to embark on professionalizing in this field.
Secondly, costume should be taught as a core-course in educational theatres. It must be made compulsory for students, in order to deepen their knowledge on the aesthetics and concepts of costume and the designers need for critical and creative handling. Thereby, creating a room for practical participation whereby students are taught the processes of handling costumes and how to build a costume. As costume students, it is expected that we know how to build costumes instead of lending, or buying of costumes for performances. Professionals in the field of costume should be employed to help facilitate, educate, and guide the students on the handling of costumes, especially in performance situations. Seminars, symposia, lectures and conferences should be held on the study, this would aid the advancement of the practice of costume in the theatre. During post-mortem, costumes should be part of the discussion. I.e. questions and answers concerning the use of costumes in the just concluded performance should be discuss in order to improve on the method of handling costume in subsequent productions. Costume designers must work with other technical crews: in order to create an in-depth interpretative visual element on stage. At this point, the costumier puts his or her creative dexterities in place.

Finally, I believe that this few suggestions will go a long way to change the attitudes of costumiers, students, and theatre practitioners toward the study of costume, as this will improve, promotes and salvages the practices of cos-tume in our theaters, in the nearest future.

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