What does it take to costume a show? Planning, research, organization, many, many hours, attention to detail, collaboration, budgeting and a good bit of art and craft.
Fall of 2015 students at Aspire Middle School for the Performing Arts took part in a production of “Cinderella: The World’s Favorite Fairy Tale” that presents the global story of Cinderella seen through the eyes of Chinese, Russian and Native American cultures. This production was costumed, for the most part, by Masque & Pettycote with some volunteer and student assistance in the last few days of production.
This semester, the Aspire students will present Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which tells this beloved story in song and dance. In addition to learning lines, choreography, and lyrics, some of the students are taking part in costuming the production.
Aspire’s curriculum concentrates on refining performance skills, but we saw this as a chance to give the students more of the theatrical process by having them experience the backstage work.
An old theatre saying says, “An actor without technicians is just a naked person emoting in the dark.” This emphasizes the importance of those who help create the rest of the world not inferred through words or music. Theatre technicians help flesh out the environments, moods, and characters through specifically chosen, colors, textures, and movement that give an audience as well as performers a more nuanced story.
The chosen time period for our Cinderella is Medieval, between 1400 and 1450 with long gowns, bell sleeves, elaborate headdresses, and men in tights.
First, the students familiarized themselves with historical research provided by the show’s costume designer, Mishka Navarre. Students then chose colors and styles that depicted the characters and created design sketches to establish general character looks.
With sketches in hand, the casting complete, and all 60 cast members measured and sized, costume pulling could begin.
Masque & Pettycote has a fairly large collection of Medieval costumes to pull from. After cast members were assigned pieces that relate to their size and character needs, the costume team would have a better idea idea of what was left to do: Who has pieces and who doesn’t? What pieces need to be found? What pieces need to be made?
We found that we were able to assign pieces to a majority of the cast, many of whom play townspeople, as well as attendees at the ball, but there whole show was not dressed yet. A few people were missing critical pieces such as gowns and tunics, which, for the most part, will be made in Masque & Pettycote’s workshop.
In fact, each actor will have at least one gown or tunic, a tabard or surcote, a belt, a headpiece, and boys will need leggings. Special characters will need their specific pieces such step sister ball gowns, Cinderella’s glass slippers, horse heads for the horses, a chef’s hat, and the minister’s vestments.
This becomes a mountain of clothes and organization to keep track of. With at least 4 costume items per person, we’re looking at over 300 pieces–each piece getting a name tag, which by itself can take hours.
Each item will be also be fitted, with about a 1/4 of the show created from scratch or shopped for.
The next step, will be finding appropriate fabrics and patterns to build the missing items. These will then be cut and stitched with the help of students and volunteer parents.
Soon, we will arrange fittings where we find out how the selected pieces fit. Do they need adjustments? Do we need to come up with completely different pieces? What articles are missing and what needs to obtained?
Once the clothing is determined for each actor, the details get attended to: hats, veils, headpieces, belts etc.We are looking forward to a few days where elaborate headdresses will be assembled for the ladies and gentlemen.
Take a sneak peek at our process, look here for updates on the work to come and mark your calendars to go see our work in action April 13, 15 and 16 At North Thurston Performing Arts Center.
Remember to support your local community artists and go see some theatre. We don’t exist without you and we are here for you; to give you–and that naked actor in the dark–a well dressed, lit, constructed and designed world.