Saskatoon costume designer sets mood for J. Caesar with intricate style

For more than 25 years, Beverley Kobelsky has been designing costumes for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. She finds inspiration for her designs in a variety of things. But when it came time to construct the pieces in this year's production of J. Caesar, Kobelsky found ideas closer to home.

Beverley Kobelsky used paint and sandpaper to create post-apocalyptic look

Beverley Kobelsky has been designing the costumes for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan for more than 25 years. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

Beverley Kobelsky finds inspiration for her designs in a variety of things, but when it came time to construct the post-apocalyptic pieces in this year's production of J. Caesar, she found ideas closer to home.

"My sons play those horrible, apocalyptic video games and the images of the broken-down world and the clothing was really inspirational," she said.

She's been designing costumes for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan productions for more than 25 years.

J. Caesar is set 400 years in the future in a post-apocalyptic world and features an all-female cast.

Kobelsky started working on the costumes last December and worked very closely with director Anita Smith, the production crew and the entire cast.  

Paint and sandpaper used to get the right look

Kobelsky found inspiration from films such as Escape from New York and Mad Max: Fury Road. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

The costumes for each character range from old hockey shoulder pads that have been painted with chains attached to them to old fur coats ripped into shreds. 

Some of the clothes have a rough texture to them and there is even a mechanical hand that Cassius, played by Jonelle Gunderson, wears in the play.

Kobelsky explained that a lot of time was spent making new and shiny items look dirty and worn.

"You throw paint or sandpaper it or do things to make it look like it's worn and broken down to give that idea of a lived in look."

Freedom to move

Another challenge Kobelsky faced was making sure the actors were free to move in their costumes. The play features several dynamic fight scenes and characters who are always moving on stage. 

The all-female cast of J. Caesar in costume. The play runs until August 20. (Photo courtesy Debra Marshall Photography)

The key, she said, was to work with each actor early on in rehearsals to ensure they felt comfortable and safe.

"The ladies were able to work with the pieces on the very first day so that they could incorporate them early. Shoes are always hugely important for safety but also you want the right look for the characters," she explained.

The costumes have quickly generated a lot of buzz amongst audiences.

During the intermission on preview night, people were talking about the dynamic Mad Max: Fury Road inspired costumes each character was wearing; referring to the 2015 Oscar winning film.  

Kobelsky designed a mechanical hand using children's toys for the character of Cassius. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

Hearing that buzz brings a smile to Kobelsky's face because she knows how much collaboration and hard work goes into creating each piece.

She also designed the costumes for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the other production being shown this summer, and teaches year-long at the University of Saskatchewan.  

It can make for long hours but Kobelsky feels lucky to be involved with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan.

"It's a wonderful way to express yourself as an artist. Both directors, Anita Smith and Will Brooks, have allowed me great freedom of expression." 


Eric Anderson

Freelance writer

Eric Anderson is the communications leader for Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon and creator of the podcast YXE Underground. He spent nearly eight years with CBC Saskatchewan.