A Costumer’s Handbook

posted by David Draper, A.C.T. Costume Shop Manager

Today we are doing final fixes on the costumes for Rich and Famous. Last Thursday was the first preview performance, and no major changes were requested. We still have some finishing to do: satin bindings on two of the tuxedo jackets, jewels on Leanara’s dress . . . but the end is in sight.

This show is the tricky slot in the season schedule. A Christmas Carol has a shorter—if jam-packed—run than most shows, and keeps us busy right up to its opening each year. Add in the holidays, and the build time for Show #4 [Rich and Famous] is tight.

The holiday season also brings some special obstacles to confront. Shopping locally means contending with the hordes of amateurs who clog the stores and walkways. Doing business online can also be a headache, with shipping departments backed up, inventories not at their fullest, and short-staffing everywhere. Then we get into the shipping companies who put on extra people who apparently just don’t care. It happens every year, but more so this year: we get notices that drivers get no response from us and can’t make the delivery at times when everyone is in the costume shop working. It got so frustrating that we literally took shifts at the front door when we expected deliveries. Of course that had a lot to do with our building owner not fixing the intercom, but that rant is for another day.

Scheduling aside, the costumes for Rich and Famous are a really fun look at the ’70s. We had some ’70s fashions in Rock ’n’ Roll, but that wasn’t the broad comedy this is. Still, it’s interesting how certain periods of clothing will never get used and then suddenly you’re doing two shows from roughly the same era.

The Rich and Famous designs incorporate so many skill sets that they are like a costumer’s handbook. There are the aforementioned tuxedos, which need an experienced tailor. There is a hand-painted silk tunic, which has to withstand water getting thrown on it each performance. Then there are the costumes for the play-within-the-play [Bing Ringling’s masterpiece The Etruscan Conundrum]. Gregory Gale, the designer (you may remember he did the clothes for Urinetown a few years back) created a look for them that suggests a really earnest attempt at what are ultimately cheesy costumes. The tunic and cape [worn by A.C.T. Associate Artist Gregory Wallace as Aphro performing in The Etruscan Conundrum] are “ombré dyed,” which means that the colors are darker at the hems and fade to off-white as they move up. They also have stars appliquéd on them, which have the reverse color movement, light at the bottom, dark at the top. This all required we baste the costumes together, fit them, take them apart to dye, re-mark the pieces to account for any shrinkage in the process, put the stars on and then put ’em together for real. Oh, and then decorate with sew-on jewels! Makes us remember why we refer to “building” a costume rather than “making” or “sewing” it.

The whole shop is really proud of how this show turned out. The costumes are really imaginative and just plain fun. It took A.C.T’s really talented shop staff to execute them as imagined by Gregory Gale. Working through the holidays to boot!

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