While the bare-bones basic components of theater are nothing more than actors and a script, most theater productions are incomplete without the addition of costumes and makeup. Costumes and makeup play an important role in the drama, character creation, visual aesthetic and even practical elements in a production.
Beyond setting and character, costumes and makeup play an important role in visibility and aesthetic. Makeup is necessary for ensuring that the features of an actor's face are easy to see and don't get “washed out” by the bright stage lights. Costumes perform a similar function, since a skilled costume designer will avoid colors and designs that are too pale or intricate to be distinguished by the audience.
Good costumes and makeup will give the audience key information about a character at first sight. For example, if a character is in a depressive state, the costuming and makeup may reflect this in the form of unkempt, dirty and wrinkled clothing, a five-o-clock beard shadow, and mussed hair. This enhances the storytelling and realism of the play.
Costumes are a chief indicator of the time and place of a play, whether the actors are wearing Renaissance period garb or styles of the 1960s. Makeup and hairstyles should also be coordinated to match the setting of the play, though some concession is made in makeup styles for the sake of avoiding wash-out.
The director and costume designer will often work together in creating a visual aesthetic for a show that goes beyond the practical concerns. For example, if a director wishes to dress up a Victorian era play with some steampunk aesthetic elements, the costumer should work with this aesthetic and add clockwork and metallic ornaments to the actors' garb. This type of planning not only enhances the vision for the drama and storytelling, it helps create a theatrical experience that is richly enjoyable from a visual standpoint as well as a dramatic one.
Costumes and makeup serve an important purpose for actors, too. Though the primary work that actors do in creating their characters is done during the weeks of rehearsal and individual practice leading up to a show, seeing themselves transformed visually into a character is often a powerful source of inspiration.