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Pulling Focus: Joyce Padua & “My Fair Lady”

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Joyce Padua sits down with Siminovitch Community Manager Sam to discuss her creative process in designing costumes for My Fair Lady at the Shaw Festival.

Her creative process for My Fair Lady began with an analysis of the text for its narrative, technical aspects, and themes. Like all great designers, Joyce immersed herself in research, delving into archives and the historical context of My Fair Lady, like reading Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and researching the original Greek myth of Pygmalion.

Through an exploration of the Victorian language of flowers, Joyce subtly weaves symbolic meanings into each costume design, giving the ensemble a rich visual language to inform their character portrayals. Collaborating closely with the ensemble, she incorporates elements that may not be explicitly stated in the script but serve to enrich their understanding and portrayal of their roles – like costuming each character after a uniquely symbolic Victorian flower. She views costumes as integral to expressing not only outward appearances but also inner emotions and motivations.

Joyce embraces the challenge of breathing life into this well-known work, infusing her designs with new inspirations while staying true to the original narrative, and paying homage to Cecil Beaton’s iconic designs from stage and film productions. For example, inspired by the Pygmalion myth, Joyce chose to costume the aristocrats at the ascot horse race scene as grey Greek statues, with Eliza Doolittle standing out in a costume with a mix of whites and blacks, showing how she has the toolkit to blend the two colours and merge into high society, but doesn’t yet have the know-how. 

The costume designs for My Fair Lady reflect a nuanced understanding of both the rich inner lives of the characters, as well as the historical context of the play. With nods to past iconic Doolittle gowns), Joyce shows off her unique skill set as a designer by incorporating elements like the language of flowers and subtle, period-accurate visual cues. Joyce’s contributions add layers of depth to the production, enriching the audience’s experience and highlighting the intricate interplay between design, performance, and storytelling.

You can catch Joyce’s incredible work in My Fair Lady at the Shaw Festival now until December 22nd.

See more of Joyce’s work on her website.

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