Zede and Mallory outline the process of costuming a show whether that is show choir, a musical, theatrical or any type of performance.
Mallory and Zede reflect on their past costuming experiences and other community costumers that they personally know. Quite frankly what comes to Mallory’s mind is how often these costumers get taken advantage of. Zede remarks how she would love to costume for the Rockettes! She imagines she would have an unlimited budget and could hire 15 people to help instead of having $40 a person to make 6 costumes and having to be all 15 of those people. Costuming a show is truly a labor of love and doesn’t always come with appreciation.
On a more positive note, Mallory says when you contribute to a community through entertainment it will be a magical moment for some audience and cast members. There is a reward for all the work.
Zede and Mallory may complain about their costuming experiences and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean they hated the experience, complaining with perspective is a-ok. That being said, its not okay to let people walk all over you and have unrealistic demands placed on you. As Zede said, ” let me just pull that costume out of my butt – it’s not gonna happen, things take time.”
How did Zede get into Costuming
Mallory and her two older sisters were performing at Summerstock Theatre and the costume shop was looking for volunteers. Up until this time Zede had only made costumes for her children. The costume shop was needing zippers put into dresses they built (fun costume shop lingo- costumers say they built a costume as opposed to made it). This was a task Zede knew she could do, in fact she did it so well her nickname that summer was Zipper Queen. The head costumer Susan was very impressed with how efficient a sewer Zede was and really wanted to hire her but as the budget for the show was already set she was unable. Instead Zede said she would come everyday and help if Susan (who was an excellent costumer and very experienced) would show her something new each time. Susan did, and Zede learned so much that summer.
Where to Start
Get involved from the beginning before actors are even picked, this will keep you ahead of the game. Mal and Zede agree it’s important to meet with the director early on. You’ll go over sequences, costume changes, show themes, major costume changes, accessory only changes, how many people you’ll need to costume, and very importantly get a script. Mal can not urge enough how important it is to read the script. She suggests reading it at least a couple times – be familiar with what’s happening.
Zede says if you get lucky you’ll get a costumer’s script with the notes in the margins. These will have helpful insights in to what is happening to the costumes during the performance. Does the costume get bloody, dirty, ripped, or is someone pregnant? Do you need two of the same costume – one that stays clean one that gets dirty?
It’s important to get yourself in the correct time period also. Mallory is really bothered when the time period of a performance is clearly before 1950’s/1960’s and there are bare legs on stage, put them in stockings! Seeing this really takes her out of the show. Zede is most bothered when the time period is the 1800’s and all the long dresses look like they came off the prairie. She says just because it’s long doesn’t make it correct for the time period. She understands there can be financial and time restraints but try your best.
The mark of a good show (unfortunately) is that the costumes don’t get noticed. If the costumes don’t get mentioned in a review they were right for the show. Zede explains, “They were an integral part of the story and they did not distract from it.” You are not trying to reenact the time period. You don’t need the same materials things were made of or the same number of layers. Mallory references an article about the Hamilton musical where originally re-enactors were used to create the costumes but they were way too hot and bulky for the movement on the stage. As far as historical accuracy Mal urges you to strive for garment silhouette and color.
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Who will you work with?
You will work with the director and possibly the music director and scene builder. Know who you’re working with and establish a relationship with them. You of course will work with the performers the majority of the time.
Zede suggests using a spreadsheet to keep track of everything and this will be your check off list too. You will have a list of performers’ names with what costumes they have and important dates for measuring them, dress rehearsals, blocking, alterations, etc…
Measure everything -ankles, shoe size, wrists, neck, everything! It’s also a good idea to make a note of things you need to supply like their shoes. If the performers are part of an equity house you will supply everything, even their undergarments (unless they say they will bring their own).This is a contract deal and you must provide everything from the skin up. If you are working with highschool students or non equity house performers you and the director decide who brings the shoes, socks, and types of these items.
Ask the director for a measurement only session. It’s a good idea to find out if you will be responsible for wigging and makeup too. Sometimes costumers will be asked to do this also.
Where and How are the costumes being stored?
Sometimes you will get lucky and the costumer will have a whole shop with ample costume storage and other times you may get sent on a wild search for a tiny closet not even close to the stage. Either way, know where the costumes are located.
Quite often Zede had enough room for a couple rolling closet racks. On these she would have wooden hang tags with the performer’s actual name and character name and she would place their costumes behind them. Label everything! Zede likes to affix a label on every garment piece stating who owns it, what performer is wearing it and any other important details. Things will get lost, misplaced, put on the wrong person, borrowed, etc…
Be organized, label things, keep a schedule, and research the time period. You will also need to figure out if you need to submit designs to the director. The director may ask for sketches, photographs, magazine pictures, or any combination of things. Find out what you need and what they want.
Zede says, “someone will give you a budget and it will suck!” But your costumer resources extend beyond your monetary budget. If you are with an established theatre or school there will be a costume shop or something with past costumes and things in it.
Other theaters within a community will often times trade or borrow with each other. Just make sure everything is labeled and you know the borrowing parameters – can you alter the item, etc…
Costumers and theaters frequently get donations. Zede says take it all, you never know what will come in use or how you can repurpose an item. She has dyed many donated wedding dresses. With today’s social media platforms (think Facebook and instagram) it makes it even easier to put a community call out for needed items, so don’t forget to use them.
Another inexpensive and great resource is recycle wear. It never hurts to check local salvation army and good will stores.
Always take care of rented or borrowed items. Ask how they want the item laundered and keep it tagged with info. so you know who and where it belongs to. A contract with a list of who, what, where, how long and with all involved parties’ signatures is a great idea.
Are you just itching to costume your first production now? Have you ever costumed a performance before?
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