Dressing Scrooge: An Interview with Costume Director Jessie Amoroso Part One

By Elspeth Sweatman

Making a new dress for 2016 production 
of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
For ten months of every year, A.C.T.’s A Christmas Carol costumes are hidden away in the costume shop: all 200-plus costumes, including thousands of shoes. It is Costume Director Jessie Amoroso’s job to guide his team through the month-long sprint to get this Bay Area holiday classic onto the Geary stage once more. We caught up with him between costume fittings to get a glimpse into the preparations for this A.C.T. staple.

When does the process for Carol start here in The Costume Shop?

We usually have about four or five weeks once it’s cast to fit everyone and get everything ready. That’s at least fifty hours of fittings over two weeks.

Do you create any of the costumes from scratch each year?
We usually create one or two new pieces. This year we’re making two new dresses, which are always fun to make.

Are the costumes for our two Scrooges the same?
Everything is identical except for their coats and vests. Jim Carpenter wears the coat designed by Costume Designer Beaver Bauer, but Jim and Anthony are different heights. If they wore the same coat, we’d have to do alterations between shows and that be too much work. Eventually we’d like to build Anthony his own coat. Maybe next year. Put it on the list [He laughs.]

Jim and Anthony also have their own special button arrangement for their costumes, because they dress and undress onstage. They don’t have time to do all of the buttons. On Anthony’s vest, he only has three real buttons; the rest are snaps or fakes.

What is the biggest expense every year?

Dance rubber for the shoes. To re-rubber or resole a pair of shoes—even used shoes, and we tend to reuse ours—starts at about $40. Every year, it’s at least $40 to $80 per person just for footwear maintenance.

A rack of A Christmas Carol costumes. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
Do some costumes get more wear than others?
Anything that gets physically fought in shows the most wear. During the gang scene, the YC actors are on their knees; they’re fighting, jumping onto the stage, and getting tossed around. Some of their costumes were new twelve years ago, but they’ve now been fought in for about a year [one month for twelve years], so they’re starting to show their age.

When we opened this adaptation of A Christmas Carol in 2005, we were using foam snow, which falls very delicately and gently but leaves spots on some of the costumes. [He pulls out a costume.] This is Mary’s dress—Scrooge’s niece-in-law—and you can see spots which look like 7-Up or champagne got sprayed on it. This is what happens when the foam snow dries. But you step ten feet away from it, and it just looks like the dress has texture, so we haven’t tried to clean it off. We now use paper snow, which is more difficult to corral. Every night we do what’s called “The Snowflake Shuffle” so that the snow remains on stage.

Come celebrate the holidays with us! A.C.T.'s production of A Christmas Carol runs at The Geary Theater from November 25 through December 24. Click here to purchase tickets through our website

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