I came into my theatre career later than others. My journey began with one of those “Big Life” conversations I had in college about what to do with my life. I love reading, sewing, and drawing. Costume design seemed a natural fit for those interests.
When I started at Gulfshore Playhouse back in 2012, I was the costume department. I was responsible for costume designing the majority of the shows, sewing and constructing the costumes, and running wardrobe backstage. It was exhausting, but I loved the shows we produced. The directors and actors that I’ve gotten to work with have been phenomenal. It has also been wonderful working with high caliber stage managers and other professional designers.
As time passed and the company grew, we were able to hire more people onto the costume team and the role evolved into Costume Shop Manager.
A Costume Shop Manager is similar to a project manager.
My job is to look over the designs, assess how feasible it is to create the show while not exceeding labor hours and the allotted budget. It can be tricky because I love what the designers are able to create and I want to see those designs on stage. But sometimes we have to make different artistic choices.
The process for going from page to stage begins months in advance. Designers will research the show and then use the research to inspire their design. Once renderings (drawings or collages that represent the design) have been submitted we will work out the budget and try and source all the costume pieces before the first reading.
Since our shop is small, we typically rent the bulk of the costumes that are seen on stage. Costumes are pulled from many different sources such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or TDF Costume Collection and many others. These costumes usually need alterations (adjustments) in order to fit the actors and that takes up the bulk of the work to get the show ready for the stage.
If costumes are not rented, they are built or constructed to fit the actor. This includes starting from a commercial pattern or creating a pattern in the shop. After the pattern is created, we will construct a mock-up. A mock-up is a test garment to check for fit and to see if it represents the designer’s vision. Once the mock-up is fitted and the pattern is adjusted, the costume will be cut from the costume fabric and sewn together. There will be a final fitting with the actor and then the finishing work will be completed. Finishing work can include putting in closures like buttons, hems, and adding any additional trim.
Occasionally during the season, I have the opportunity to design for both the professional shows and the education shows.
I love being able to help create the story that appears on stage. Designing and shop managing at the same time is a balancing act. I have been thankful these past few years to be fully supported by the costume team. The Assistant Costume Shop Manager helps manage the list of tasks to get the show stage-ready.
One of the costume shop’s great successes was the costumes for The Mystery of Irma Vep. The show only had 2 actors on stage and many rapid quick changes. There were changes that were under 30 seconds and this included wigs and makeup. We spent a long time altering costumes to have rapid closures. These closures had magnets and long strips of velcro. The coordination with the stage management team, costume designer, costume shop, and actors allowed us to come up with a quick change plan that was successful.
The current crisis has impacted our theatre and I cannot wait to get back to work. I love creating costumes and working with talented creative people on a daily basis.