I am often asked why, starting approximately two years ago, I switched from being on the stage to being backstage–in short, why do I like costuming actors? It’s kind of simple: I like to play dress up, and costuming is simply grown up dress up. It’s not much different from why I like acting. As an aside, I also thought it would take up less of my time but that, I soon discovered, was an incorrect sentiment I still delude myself about.
I like to play different characters. I like building the depth and breadth of a persona that isn’t mine. I have myself figured out, generally speaking. Why not challenge myself to build anew and pretend to be someone (at least for a little bit) that’s outside of my comfort zone? No matter the size of the cast, it’s always possible. I knew I could dress a cast of 5-10, no matter what their styling requirements of the show–is it set in the 80s? are there specific needs, such as pockets, for props or character developments?
Sometimes, a tie or a boutonnière are pivotal, and poignant moments, of a production that can make or break a show. Have you ever seen or experienced a moment of panic when something fell off or broke on a costume? Especially when it’s an item written into the dialogue of a script and plot point for the story to move forward? Frightening as all hell when it goes wrong. I was eager to see what I could accomplish with a larger group of actors, specifically my time on Curtains!.
I had almost every thing completed (meaning designed or plotted out to be completed), I was approached by the director to pivot my plan. I was shocked–she pointed out that I had actually missed the purpose of a character in wearing his suit jacket for the entire show. I can’t say much more without ruining the plot of the show but I will say costuming is often more important than people give it credit, or give the costumers credit (this is not my personal feeling about my work, I feel extremely appreciated by all of the past and current staffs I’ve worked with as a costumer).
There’s something to say about the accolades received, however. It takes a vision and a wide range of capabilities to dress a group of individuals and have your efforts recognized by an audience (or critic). Coordinating color, not only per actor, but across the spectrum of actors who come, go, and remain on stage throughout a production. What I mean by this is that it is possible to have too many people wear blue, but if every one wears blue you may not have made a mistake but a wise decision. It depends on the context of the show.
For instance, my favorite shout out was in regards to the work I did on The Laramie Project. I was already so insanely proud of that production that when my costuming was noted, not only by my friends and audience members, by a theatre critic… I was lost in emotion of recognition. My design was fairly simple, as you may recall. Grey shirts and dark blue jeans, with small and easily accessible pieces for their different roles throughout the show. So simple but poignant because the pieces and outfits didn’t detract from the shows message or distract the actors from their characters. It was easy for them, and it was easy for the audience to enjoy and distinguish between roles.
That moment for Laramie is unforgettable and cemented my desire to continue costuming productions. Every one should enjoy what they do, right? ‘Til next time.