In director Bill Condon’s re-imagining of “Side Show,” the connection between the twins is a literal one — most often accomplished by a strong magnet that joins together two separate costumes at the hip. “How do you consider the connector when the actors are getting in and out of the costume?” designer Paul Tazewell recalled asking himself. “It’s challenging.”
Condon and Tazewell were interested in exploring the titillation inherent in the freak show attractions, particularly the twins. As Tazewell said: “One of the things that people are so curious about these twins is, you know, how do they do it?”
The show’s color scheme is largely black and white for the events that take place during the Depression, but this dress is the first real splash of color. “There’s this burst of color for the first time all evening, and for the twins, it also represents this burst of freedom from the woman who had been their guardian,” said Condon.
Is this character a real three-legged man? A couple of weeks before previews, creatives still hadn’t decided whether to play it straight or reveal the trickery of the prosthetic. “The original idea was that there would be a reveal that it was a fake leg strapped to his body,” Tazewell said. “But we’ve been able to realize a third leg that’s pretty believable.”
Tazewell based this design for a bearded lady on a period photograph of a woman who was part of a carnival. There’s a European flavor to several of the costumes, he added: “We wanted to give these characters an exotic, Old World feel.”
Why the band jacket? There’s a backstory that the creatives have come up with: The man who runs the circus lost a band member. “So he had an extra coat, and he gave it to the dogface boy,” Tazewell said.
“This is like all of those classic automatic fortune tellers in the box that you put a coin in,” Tazewell said of the fortune teller in “Side Show.” “They always have this gypsy quality.”
Charlie Chan was the inspiration for this half man, half woman — the male half, anyway. “For these looks, we’ve pulled it back a little more into the 20s, so that it feel like it’s not up to date,” Tazewell said. “The clothes are older, because no one in the circus at this point is doing well.”
“The actor can really inform the clothing decisions as well,” said Tazewell of the costume for thesp Robert Joy, who plays sideshow properietor Sir. “Robert really bought into the idea of a guy who's down on his luck, who's a drunk, and his clothing reflects that.”