Clare Horgan is eating, sleeping and breathing costumes this week. As resident costume designer with Spraoi, she’s responsible for outfitting over 200 performers for the company’s annual parade, which takes place on Sunday afternoon. A fearsome challenge worthy of melting the average brain, I ask? Not at all, says she.
“For this year’s parade we’ve had to design and make a broad cross section of costumes, from adult babies to dancing nurses to a New Orleans funeral procession and a lovely 1950s section reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands so it’s been a fairly colourful process. As always, there is a huge emphasis on fun but there are darker undercurrents, as people have come to associate with and even expect from Spraoi.
“I have a little army of workers and volunteers in the costume room with me who are great, the parade certainly couldn’t take part without their enormous contribution to Spraoi.
London-born Clare grew up in a home where, untypically, both her mother and father could sew. She studied Graphic Design at the then Waterford Regional Technical College and shortly afterwards started costuming plays with the burgeoning Red Kettle.
“Then TV Honan asked me did I have my own sewing machine and would I be interested doing costumes for Spraoi… and I’m still here. I think I had a budget of 50 quid for 50 costumes and a huge pile of ancient curtains to work with in the beginning. We built our own boiler and dyed them all by hand, in a tin drum if I recall correctly. But it was just the best laugh ever.
“Since then I’ve used everything from carpet underlay and marine rope to car seats covers and nuts and bolts to create costumes. I can say this – it never gets boring – and in these difficult times I think people need the colour and fun of the Spraoi parade more than ever.”
“The process of putting together a parade takes about three and a half months in all, from its devising to the performance on the day. Basically we sit down and put together the issues that we’re interested in and then try to take a light-hearted view of those. It’s a big devising process with everyone here, very much a collaborative process.
“People might be inclined to think it’s all fun and frolics but it is thought out quite deeply. Underneath the fun and the joking, there are some serious issues being faced into.
“For example this year’s show Bosca Beo, a life in a box, basically examines the life cycle from birth to death and beyond. It follows a box along its sometimes bumpy, sometimes winding road through life. From birth as the first box is delivered by giant storks, through the toy boxes of our childhood, to the boxes we live in as adults, to the final box of all……. and its bony inhabitant.
“It’s Spraoi’s quirky take on this – something that can be enjoyed by all the family but there is an underlying message of how everybody’s lives can become a little bit homogenized and predictable. Our mission is to ‘out’ the strange and the wacky and make people look at things in a slightly sideways fashion. It’s real life turned on its side, I suppose.”
From building a dragon for the World Aids Day parade in Tanzania whilst working with the Playing for Life charity to creating costumes for numerous Little Red Kettle productions, from artist in residence with the NTDI Rehab group, to adult education and community work, Clare’s work is multi-faceted, to say the least. And it’s never dull. Historical recreation and heritage work is featuring strongly on her CV these days – a topic she’s quite passionate about.
“My big personal interest at the moment is the Waterford Living History Society. We meet every week and try to recreate the Viking way of life and death through living history. Some of the group are engaged in recreating a Viking battlefield situation, acquiring authentic weapons and armour, making chainmail and so on. We’re also trying to recreate some traditional Viking crafts, teaching ourselves tablet weaving, how to spin and weave, hand-making costumes and shoes. We’re making the kind of food and drink they had, with everything authentic in as much as we can and it’s absolutely fascinating.
“If I hadn’t become a graphic designer I would have been an archaeologist – it’s always been my hobby – and this is just a dream come true for me.
“A lot of archaeologists are becoming interested in this living history. In Ferrycarrig they’re building an Iron Age village and letting it fall down. Then then they’re going to dig it again to see what way the settlement fell and how things decay and examine what they can learn from this. It’s called experimental archaeology and it’s intriguing.
“It is early days for the Living History group but what would be great is if we could be involved in some sort of demonstration of daily Viking life, the battles and crafts, in an educational setting
The Vikings got a bad press and I think there’s more to them than rape and pillage. They were a very interesting people. For example, they had hugely significant legal rights for women. A woman could own property, she could divorce her husband (interestingly by announcing it publicly) and then retain her property from the marriage. Women had equal voices in Council and could run and own businesses.
“There’s been a huge interest in Viking ways and days in recent years, both in Waterford and nationally. People have more leisure time and are becoming interested in the past in a more interactive way. In Waterford, you’ve got ourselves, the Longboat Project and the Fadó Arts and Heritage initiative and we’re all working very much in tandem.
“Fadó, which is based on Ballybricken, is a fantastic resource and the group were recently involved in the opening of Bishop’s Palace, when the whole of Bailey’s New Street was turned into a Viking village, complete with authentic food, a carpenter, metalworker, basket weaver, weaving shed, live animals. What child wouldn’t love to experience something like that!
“History, particularly to kids, can often be a bit dry but if you’re watching someone cook in a fulacht fiadh, if you can taste the food, watch somebody do the craft, literally talk to someone who is ‘living that life’, it can really come alive.”
Whilst Clare plays an enormous role behind the scenes at Spraoi, she has been known to don one of her fabulous costumes and partake in a little performance in her own right.
“Well, I couldn’t expect to dress people up in the most outlandish and oft-times revealing costumes and then not wear one myself, now could I?
“Aside from performing in various Spraoi parades in Waterford and Dublin over the years, I was also involved with Gerry Forristal’s Yellow Velvet Street Theatre Company and, in various capacities, I’ve done everything from dressing up as a 19th century fishwife to playing tug of war with the mayor to fire-breathing…and a few more unmentionable roles in between.
“I like being behind the scenes most of the time, though there is an amazing freedom when you’re out on the streets in costume and you’re unrecognizable. There’s a tremendous unleashing of energy and it’s powerful to see people’s reactions. People who you wouldn’t expect it from suddenly unveil themselves as being completely crazy, it can be hilarious.
“I don’t think you should be defined by your job, what you do every day. Inside you can be completely bonkers and it’s great that the Spraoi parade allows so many people to unleash that.”
Indeed, Clare has been responsible for bringing out the ‘inner crazy’ in so many and continues to do so every August.
“Everybody gets such a great buzz out of doing the Spraoi parade and some of our performers have been coming back for ten or fifteen years. I must say it is hugely rewarding from my point of when you produce those costumes and then see people getting such a great buzz out of wearing them.
“And we’re always looking for people to take part so I would say to anyone with a hankering to get involved: ‘don’t be bashful. You can start small and work up to unleashing that inner craziness’.
Sponsored by Bus Eireann, this year’s Spraoi parade, starts at 4.30pm outside Waterpark School and circles the People’s Park via Water Street, Otteran’s Place, Catherine Street, The Mall, Lombard Street, William Street and Newtown Road.