These EL wire costumes were created for "Joe's Diner," a theatrical production for a major cruise line. We created several versions of these costumes from 2009 through 2012.
The story involves a neon sign that comes to life, in the form of a moving body. The letter 'o' in 'Joe' forms the outline of the face, and the other letters are scattered on the torso and legs. It is not practical to wear conventional neon tubing, so the letters are reproduced with red EL wire.
The client initially favored a "stickman" aesthetic, where the arms, legs, and torso are made from continuous lines. That style of installation may be adequate for something you will only wear once or twice, but this costume had to be durable enough for an ongoing show (with dancing!).
We recommended a design that avoided continous runs of EL along parts of the body that flex constantly, such as the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and knees. Instead, we created EL wire shapes that would fit between the joints, and made the gaps at the knees and elbows look like an intentional part of the design. The individual shapes were reinforced as much as possible with backing material, without making the suit too stiff to bend at all.
Each suit can be lit up in separate sections: whole body, head and face only, or the outline of the head alone. The performer has control over these settings with finger mounted switches in one of his or her gloves.
The facial expressions are also an important part of the performance. In the other gloved hand, switches allow independent operation of the eyes (left, right, center, or winking) and the mouth (smiling or with rounded lips).
Finally, to make it seem like the character can disappear and reappear in another part of the stage, the show uses several performers wearing replicas of the same suit.
The clip below has a sample of one full suit in motion. This is one of the earlier versions, with more of a stick-man appearance.