Interview: Designing Sleeping Beauty with gender fluid fairies and a magnificent Maleficent- costume design by Jennifer Carbutt of Studio Kasuga in Cape Town, for the Masque Theatre’s festive season musical panto

Sleeping Beauty- a musical for all ages

Where: The Masque, 37 Main Road, Muizenberg, Cape Town
When: December 9 – 23, 2022 and then January 5-15, 2023
Tickets: R100-R120 -available at Quicket
Direction/adaption: Faeron Wheeler
Musical director: Tersia Harley
Choreography: Stephanie McCulloch
Costume design: Jennifer Carbutt of Studio Kasuga

Following on the success of its festive season musical/panto, Cinderella, last year, The Masque Theatre in Cape Town, is staging Sleeping Beauty, from December 9 – 23, 2022 and then January 5-15, 2023. In directing and adapting the much loved fairy tale, director Faeron Wheeler was keen to imbue the production with references which are likely to resonate with a contemporary audiences – the small fry and their families/care givers- in terms of design- sound and visuals. For instance, Mango Grooves’ Special Star is in the playlist. Regarding, the costumes, who says that the fairies in Sleeping Beauty are female? As it happens, the fairies in this production, are played by women but why not make them more gender fluid? Wheeler briefed Jennifer Carbutt of Studio Kasuga and she has created costumes, which are not only beautiful and alluring but are also layered with symbolism. Carbutt who grew up in KZN, studied fashion design and pattern making in Cape Town. She tags herself, “in general” as is “a designer/maker” but her extensive experience includes working in film and theatre. In the late 80s, she lived in Amsterdam as part of a vibrant expat/exile/student South African community of artists and she designed costumes for theatre companies in Europe.  In addition, she was a stilt walker for many years and designed costumes for her company. Although she is retired from stilt walking, the experience of performance is still part of her and informs her work, when designing for the stage.  Sleeping Beauty is an inspiring example of how community theatre is harnessing the skills of creatives such as Jennifer Carbutt and providing audiences with the opportunity to engage with theatre which is innovative and exciting.

Designing Sleeping Beauty

The brief in terms of the conceptual arc for Sleeping Beauty?

Faeron Wheeler: As director, I had a very specific vision in mind. I wanted the three fairies of the light to emanate different energy. So we have a lunar fairy – Fairy of the Moon- Luna- a very feminine energy. We have Sola – in orange and red – and she has a strong masculine energy. We have Twi – Twilight – in the big blue pants. She is the fairy of the in-between. She is like the dusk. I wanted to play with those ideas of masculine/feminine and a non-binary energy. With Maleficent, we wanted to create a quintessential Maleficent look that everyone is quite  aware- because of the movies – Angelia Jolie and all of that – so we have the horns of course –and we have this beautiful black skirt. Jennifer designed that for a different project and we have been very lucky to borrow it- she has this gorgeous big skirt which she swishes around on stage- so that was the look and feel.

Jennifer Carbutt: For me it was important to give an ‘otherworldly’ feel to the fairy costumes. Fae had said she wanted to give the feeling of wings, without traditional wings – so it was fun to play with the big sleeves of different shapes, and shoulder emphasis. Musical pantomime is a genre that generally offers a lot of creative space. Maleficent’s big skirt was part of a costume I had made in Amsterdam some years back – in that incarnation it was the Black Queen – essentially the same character – different time and place. Great to see it in use again.

Aesthetic- taking a fairy tale classic and liberating it

Last year, with the Masque’s Cinderella, I was fascinated by the combo of contemporary gear with fairy tale garb. This year, working with you as costume designer, the aesthetic is very considered – with Maleficent and the fairies. Would you say that there is a millennial aesthetic with classic fairy tale or how would you put it?

Jennifer Carbutt: It has been interesting to see how Fae has taken a fairy tale classic, and ‘liberated’ it, in different ways. Community theatre is a very important platform for challenging and changing preconceptions and raising awareness of possibilities. I think that the masculine/feminine and non-binary energy are very much millennial issues, so it is refreshing to see this expansion reflected in Sleeping Beauty. I prefer not to label, but millennial aesthetic is a pretty broad definition

Working with the Masque

Is this is your first gig with the Masque? Can you tell us how you got into designing for theatre?

Jennifer Carbutt: Yes, this is my first work for the Masque, hopefully the start of a long collaboration. These are the first costumes I have done in a while. I was out of the country for a long time, based in Amsterdam [late 80s]. At a certain moment I acquired the skill of stilt walking. I met a French stilt-walker who became my partner, and we began our own stilt theatre company, and in these years, travelled and performed in 10 European countries, from Spain to Sweden. I designed and made the costumes for our group, as well as several other theatre companies in the Netherlands, France, and Germany. In terms of study, I studied fashion design and pattern cutting, at the Cape Town School of Fashion Design. I got involved with design in the film industry and then I travelled and became a stilt walker and designed our costumes and for other companies. It is very exciting to be part of Sleeping Beauty at the Masque.

Maleficent: Kim Mortimer as the evil fairy Maleficent, in Sleeping Beauty, Masque Theatre, Cape Town, December 2022 – January 2023. Costume designed by Jennifer Carbutt of Studio Kasuga. Photo: Alasdair McCulloch. Supplied
Three Fairies of the Light: Rufaro Mvududu plays the fairy, Sola in Sleeping Beauty at the Masque Theatre, Cape Town, December 2022 – January 2023. Director Faeron Wheeler: “Sola is in orange and red – and has a strong masculine energy.” Costume design by Jennifer Carbutt of Studio Kasuga. Photo: Alasdair McCulloch.
Moon fairy: Tithonia Roux plays the Fairy of the Moon, Lunar, in Sleeping Beauty at the Masque Theatre, Cape Town, December 2022 – January 2023. Costume design by Jennifer Carbutt of Studio Kasuga. Pic: Alasdair McCulloch.
Kasuga Design: Jennifer Carbutt of Studio Kasuga  – has designed the costumes for Sleeping Beauty at The Masque, Cape Town, summer – December 2022 to January 2023. This renaissance designer has worked extensively in theatre in Holland, where she lived for many years, in the late 1980s. She also designed for theatre groups in Europe. Her studio, Kasuga, in Cape Town is a hub of creativity. Jennifer: “I cut patterns, sew and fabricate.” The studio creates accessories and jewellery and costumes. Image supplied.

✳ This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn: