On the Phone With Amy Clark: Dressing the Girls of Heathers: The Musical

On the Phone With Amy Clark: Dressing the Girls of Heathers: The Musical

Hot girls running around in short, short skirts: Welcome to the world of Heathers: The Musical, the new Off-Broadway show based on the cult 1989 movie about an “in” group of high school girls. Amy Clark is the costume designer entrusted with creating the look of the Heathers as they transition from screen to stage. How’d she do it?

Francis Lewis: This has been a great retro year for you: First, your costumes for A Night With Janis Joplin on Broadway; and now, Heathers: The Musical Off-Broadway.

Amy Clark: It’s funny I did a show the year before on Broadway, Chaplin, that literally spanned the 1890s to 1972. We touched every decade in the early 20th century. So it seemed perfect to now do something in the 1980s.

FL: Was it important for you to be dead-on true to the ’80s?

AC: For me, it was definitely not important to be true to the period. But it was important to honor the movie.

FL: How so?

AC: I loved it so much. It came out toward the end of my freshman year of high school and was so well conceived. It almost feels like it was curated: The colors are so specific.

FL: How did you get back into the period?

AC: I looked at tons of Vogue magazines after watching the movie again for like a thousand times. We definitely do the ’80s shoulder pads, the hair, the silhouette and the scrunchies. But the skirts [in the musical] are absurdly short to the point that they’re not realistic. We push the theatrical vocabulary. Ours is definitely a contemporary take on the ’80s.

FL: Can you talk a bit about the color palette for each Heather in both the movie and the show?

AC: Color is really specific, and that’s how intelligently the movie was done. Heather Chandler, who’s the main Heather, is red. She’s the general. She’s the boss. Heather Duke is the most envious of them all, so she’s green. She wants to be the most important Heather, but she’s not. She has no real discernible personality traits except constantly being jealous of what everybody else has going on. Heather McNamara, who is yellow, is kind of the weakling, the fragile little chickadee of the group. She’s the meekest of all of them. Then there’s Veronica, who is black and blue. She’s the bruised and battered one of the group. There was no reason for me to reinvent any of this: The movie did such a brilliant job of creating that world and those characters.

FL: Did you buy the clothes, search vintage shops or make them from scratch?

AC: It was a combination of all three. But we had to make them for the most part because there was just no way for me to get the silhouette [I wanted], plus the fact that they’re dancing in the costumes. There are a couple of tricks we use as costume designers when we’re building clothes that retail manufacturers don’t.

FL: You mentioned earlier that the miniskirts are absurdly short. Was that to accommodate the dancing?

AC: No. For me, it was to push the fact that this is a theatrical, exaggerated world. There’s nothing literal about the set. A couple of pieces come on and off, yet we accept this environment as multiple locations. I felt like there also needed to be a nod in the costumes that this is not the literal world but an exaggeration or a theatrical presentation of that world. Everything is heightened. So, the clothes are all a little too sexy. It’s a way of saying: We recognize that this is not reality. Heather Chandler’s big suicide moment in the movie is when she slams through a Plexiglas table. We can’t do that onstage. We have to do a theatrical representation. It helps audiences accept the reality of that heightened world when all elements in the show live in that world. Everything is just twisted enough that that becomes the normal environment. That’s the magic of doing theater.

FL: Are there a lot of costume changes?

AC: No. Again, because the environment doesn’t change, we found it was unnecessary to change costumes for every scene. It seemed to burden the play. However, we felt it was important to see Veronica change because in our version we see Veronica being accepted by the Heathers, whereas in the movie she’s already kind of a Heather. In our show, we see how she became a Heather. We see what she looks like when she is not happy, and we see her become happier. We witness that change. It was a really important storytelling moment for us. It doesn’t happen for any other character.

FL: How do you convey that change?

AC: It’s about the shape and feel of what she starts the show in and where she ends up. In the beginning, her clothes are looser, baggier, muddier. The idea is that when we first see her she’s a little insignificant and not really committed to anything. She wants to disappear. She doesn’t want to be noticed. She wants to just get through the day and not be picked on. She doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd. She wants to camouflage herself and get through the rest of high school without getting her ass kicked.

FL: I think a lot of people can understand that.

AC: Totally. Camouflage. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Then, after this group accepts her, it’s look at me. I’m here. I’m one of them, and this is what they look like.

FL: Your actresses obviously weren’t alive during the ’80s. What was their initial reaction to the clothes?

AC: It took a day or two for everyone to get used to how short the skirts were. They’re really short. If you’re sitting in the first two rows, you’re really getting butt cheeks. In a way, it’s great and totally right. There’s an overt sexuality to these girls. It’s so shocking when I go back and look at the overt sexuality of high school movies of the ’80s. That certainly wasn’t what my high school experience was like!

>> Heathers: The Musical, New World Stages, Stage 1, 340 W. 50th St., btw Eighth & Ninth aves., 212.239.6200