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‘Conversation’ still evolving

Citizen Staff Writer


Tucson Citizen

Just like an evolving work of art, Invisible Theatre’s original production “A Conversation with Edith Head” has evolved.

Back in 2002 when IT’s artistic director Susan Claassen wrote and
made her debut in this one-woman show – giving a much-praised portrayal
of the iconic Hollywood costume designer – the story was set on the
Universal City Studio Tour where she had a bungalow. Now Claassen makes
adjustments to her intimate portrait so it is set in whatever city – or
country – she happens to be in for the show.

So when “A Conversation with Edith Head” returns to the Tucson stage
March 5, the dialogue will be adjusted so there are direct references
to the Old Pueblo.

“Her husband loved Southwestern art, and they would come here
looking for pieces to collect,” Claassen says. “They also went to
Nogales. And remember that ‘The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean’ was
shot here, ” Claassen adds. She doesn’t expect any shortage of Tucson

“Edith Head knew the value of reaching out to the public, and we do
that, too. It is especially rewarding for me to meet people who
actually knew her.”

There were some particularly touching incidents in London, where the
show played for three weeks in 2007. The London run followed the play’s
successful three weeks at Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe (“There
is no such thing as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they always say
‘Festival Fringe’ Claassen assures us), where the show was officially
declared a sell-out.

“Out of 2,000 acts, there were only 200 that officially sold out,” Claassen says proudly.

“When we went to London, people were always telling us stories about
their personal connections to her, especially older people. One said
how they would see Edith Head’s name during World War II and just
seeing that name would give them hope.”

Edith Head lived up to that promise, going on to design the costumes
for the stars of many pictures for decades after the war ended. The
last film she worked on was Steve Martin’s comedy “Dead Men Don’t Wear
Plaid,” released in 1982.

The iconic costume designer had a particularly close working
relationship with another Brit, Alfred Hitchcock. Claassen is
especially taken by the gowns Head designed for Grace Kelly in “Rear
Window” and “To Catch A Thief.”

“In ‘Rear Window’ the clothes she wears actually progress the story,” Claassen points out.

In a complementary event, the Loft Cinema is screening “Rear Window”
at 1 p.m. Sunday. Claassen will be there to talk about Head’s costumes
for the picture and dish a little dirt on Hitchcock’s battles with
uptight censors to keep some sexual tension in this 1954 classic

“In film, you design for the close-ups,” Claassen explains. “That’s what made the neckline so important.”

“Edith would be on the set so if the censors complained about too
much cleavage, she would slip in a large flower, or something else

Hitchcock and the costume designer worked especially well together, says Claassen, who has become an expert on the subject.

“Edith would say, ‘With every director you have a special language. But with Hitch I didn’t even need words.’”

Claassen also feels a strong connection to this lady who was equally famous for her bangs.

“On a lot of levels I do relate to her,” Claassen says. “I love
doing the role. Whenever I’m in costume, I always stay in character. I
feel personally responsible for representing her accurately.

“On a lot of levels I can relate to her directly. To her
determination, and her love for style. Both of us have such passion for
what we do.

“But she is different from me, too. She is more reserved, less
animated than I am. Her sense of humor is different. She didn’t smile
as much as I do.”

However there is no denying the physical look they share. When Claassen is stage-ready, the resemblance to Head is uncanny.

“If you Google her I come up a lot. The Web site for the Biography
Channel had a picture of her, but it was actually a photo of me.

“We did notify them of the error,” Claassen adds with a little smile.


What: Invisible Theatre presents “A Conversation with Edith Head” by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen

When: 7:30 p.m. March 5, 8 p.m. March 6-7, 3 p.m. March 8

Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.

Price: $25, discounts for groups of 10 or more

Info: 882-9721, invisibletheatre.com

What: Loft Cinema presents “Rear Window,” with opening remarks by Susan Claassen

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.

Price: $6 general admission, $4.75 Loft members

Info: 795-0844, loftcinema.com

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