April 6th, 2018

Anna Wyckoff

In NBC’s drama, Rise, the theater department of a rural high school in the fictional town of Stanton, Pennsylvania stages the musical Spring Awakening. Costume Designer Caroline Duncan had to not only costume the cast, but also the people of the show within the show. This meant considering how the characters would dress themselves and also how they would go about creating costumes for their theatrical performance. “It’s not about how I as a Costume Designer would want Spring Awakening to look like if it was on Broadway, but rather what these kids and their teachers could come up with, without any resources.”

Social media became vital for contemporary fashion research. Duncan feels a lot of details can be gleaned from the photographs kids post of themselves. Finding images of real teenagers living in rural Pennsylvania became her chief resource. “It’s almost as good as if I had been able to go to twenty different towns and take photos of kids myself,” she says. This fealty to truth and reality became a touch point for all the looks she designed.

As the season progressed and the characters find themselves influenced by their stage personas, Duncan wanted to demonstrate that development visually in their costumes. For instance, Lilette (Auli’i Cravalho) is a tough, fiercely independent young woman who plays Wendla in Spring Awakening. Duncan explains, “As Lilette’s character softens and she lets more people in, she starts wearing more of Wendla’s pieces. There’s an intrusion of florals into her plaid and olive. That dynamic created sort of an interesting tension between Lilette and Wendla.”

Because Stanton is a former steel town that has lost much of its economy, finding clothing that conveyed a sense of history was a major focus of the show, and aging pieces became Duncan’s obsession. As part of that process, she would create a backstory not just for the characters, but for every item. A shirt for one character was a hand-me-down from an elder sister who had herself worn it five years ago when she attended high school. “It’s part of the design process that was so satisfying, by the time each piece went on camera it felt like it had its own history.”

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