Color Onstage

The colors that costumers and set designers use can really influence the way that an audience perceives something they see on stage. Color can make a certain character the center of attention, suggest a particular mood for the scene, or signify change of some kind or another. The swatches above show the color schemes Motley planned out for the costume and set design of four of their Shakespearean productions. They come from productions of Antony and Cleopatra, HamletOthello, and King Lear. These swatches can give us some insight into how Motley used color to convey a particular production’s story.

The Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design is a collection of over 5,000 items relating to twentieth-century theatre. Sisters Margaret Harris and Sophia Harris, and their friend Elizabeth Montgomery formed Motley, an influential design team. Together they designed sets and costumes for plays, opera, ballet, and motion pictures. We’ll be featuring pieces from the Motley Collection over the coming months using #MotleyCollection. If you’d like to browse the Motley Collection, you can also head to the Motley Collection Digital Library and see digital images from the collection.

Motley. “Color Detail” from Antony and Cleopatra, 1953. Gouache and pencil. “Color Palette” from Hamlet, 1958. Gouache, metallic and watercolor. “Color Swatches” from King Lear, 1960. Gouache. “Costume and Color Scheme” from Othello, 1951. Miscellaneous fabric swatches. 01/01/MSS00041: Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design, 1932-1976.

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