Anne Curry has a degree in theatre design and completed two years post graduate study at the Slade School of Art. She received the Sir Barry Jackson Memorial Scholarship; The Jacobs Memorial Award; and has worked in Rome, Florence and Vienna after receiving a travel bursary from the Royal Society of Arts.
A wide variety of design experience includes both resident and freelance work. Anne worked at Oldham Coliseum after receiving an Arts Council Design Bursary. “Dreams of San Francisco” (Bush Theatre 1978) won the Thames Television Award for Best Production; “The Boys in the Band” (King’s Head and Aldwych Theatre 1997); The Vivian Ellis Prize (Her Majesty’s Theatre 1997).
Anne joined the department of BA (Hons) Theatre Design at Nottingham Trent University in January 2002 as senior lecturer in Costume Design and Interpretation. Prior to that she was Course Director for BA (Hons) Theatre Design, BA (Hons) Performance Design and MA Scenography at the University of Central England. She is currently completing an MA in Education and has been a visiting tutor at Central School of Speech and Drama. Nine recent designs for the Birmingham Theatre School include the Shakespeare in Education Tour and “Oh, What A Lovely War!” performed in the Social History Gallery of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
– Amy Broatch interviewed Anne about her work as tutor of costume design at the Nottingham Trent School of Art and Design Theatre Design course and the popular corset project at the course.
What do you think makes the corset project so popular with the students each year?
I think students are so excited by the corset project because it is so highly personal, they can really make of it what they want. The wording of the brief is structured so you should be able to be inspired by corsetry, by contemporary corsets or to look back at historical ones. I purposefully kept the brief flexible so as to encourage the students to fully use their own creative imagination, and be excited by the many different avenues the project can take you down. When I presented the brief, I said that you don’t even have to make the corset with fabric if you wanted to take a more sculptural approach, or equally you can be quite faithful to a period pattern. I didn’t want to put too much restraint on the project.
This project is not just about the corset, it is the “whole look” of the chosen character; hair, make-up and accessories all need to be thought about carefully. Amy you pushed it to the limit and created a complete vision of your courtesan character. I used the corset project as one of the few exclusive costume projects on the course to show personal interpretations of a brief and to illustrate that you can have rigorous intellectual research and complex aesthetic ideas which all relate to costume, because I think in terms of performance costume contributes equally, if not more so than set. We do need both, but I’m keen to flag up the potential of costume. And I’m thrilled each year when more and more students choose to do the corset project.
The brief requires the students to research the entire history of the corset, right back to the snake goddess c. 2000, which is one of the earliest examples of body sculpting before it was formally invented or even known as the “corset” The brief allows the student to take inspiration from whatever source they like, for example your project Amy, you chose a literary source of a courtesans novel to inspire your character. You can be literal or quite abstract; some may take literature as their source for character development, others may be inspired by music theatre, television or some by painting or sculpture. It really is very open.
What kind of skills are involved in the project?
The costume-making skills involved in the project are a great way to increase the student’s skill base. Most students tend to choose crafted corsets from period patterns to make rather than sculptural ones. I think this shows a real interest and need to learn crafted skills, which really helps employability in costume jobs after students leave the course. Painstaking skills are involved in making a fully boned corset and the finished product has to withstand close inspection in the final marking. Students take away with them complex dress making skills; to construct a corset has got to be one of the hardest and challenging items of costume to make.
How important do you think the corset has been to the shaping of the modern female silhouette?
Society has never been very forgiving of the variety in female form. It may pay lip service to it but the reality is that expectations of what constitutes the ideal female form are often outrageously out of the grasp of most women. The corset actually made it easier in the past to procure curves out of nowhere. But these days, a very stringent work out and, often, plastic surgery, are the only ways to get the same look without the aid of the garment. I’m not sure that very many people realize what was underneath the dresses of women that made them so shapely in the past
What kind of research is involved in the project?
I organised primary research visits to museums and also set up individual viewing sessions for students in the costume museum in Nottingham, for different time periods of corsets which related to their own personal project, thus matching student need with what was in the museum. I really encourage primary research, as viewing costumes is vital in learning more about fabrics, shapes, silhouettes and textures in this way much more than just looking in a book. Also sketching from real costumes, as opposed to just taking photographs is encouraged as drawing skills are vital in this industry. It is essential to be able to communicate your ideas to a director.
I think the most primary attraction of corsetry is the scope for transformation to change the female torso. If you look back to a period context, we’d all be wearing corsets, in regulation. Nowadays it’s a way of maximising between day and leisure time. Walking down high street, styles of corset can be still found. There still is a current consumer need and it has never really gone out of fashion, be it in one form or another, nor do I think it ever will. The corset still has the ability of being quite a radical and shocking item of clothing, used as a vehicle for personal expression.