The scripts are printed and the show is cast. “We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas” … cascades through the hot and muggy building, repeating itself at least a hundred times as the arranger listens for just the right chord combination. It’s September and the annual Christmas production is in full swing. The happiest (translated busiest) time of the year is upon us and those actors are going to have to have something to wear on stage!
Costuming a production can be one of the most rewarding labors of love and service, yet one of the most challenging. So, how does one begin?
When volunteers ask me if they can help with costuming, but don’t know if there is anything they can do to help since they can’t sew, my response is always a great big ABSOLUTELY! Costuming is about 15% sewing and 85% organization.
Begin by creating a spreadsheet of everyone in the show. You may alter the information needed on various pages by character, scenes, costumes needed, etc.
(See the pictures below.)
Next, get a bunch of hangers and create hanger labels for each character and costume change. I choose to first separate by song or scene. For instance, everyone in “White Christmas” would have a label with their name on one end and the song title (or scene) on the other. These can be viewed at a quick glance and allow me to see what is needed.
As you gather costume items, use your spreadsheet to match the items with their hanger, and the hangers with their song/scene rack. (We also use plastic grocery bags to hang loose costume accessories, such as shoes, hats, scarves, etc. on the hanger.) I love filling the hangers up and marking off my list of who needs what!
(See pictures below.)
As soon as the concept for the show is presented, create a folder and begin filling it with pictures of costume designs that will help complete the story being told. Pictures are available in old photo albums, the Internet, old Sears catalogs, a walk down the street…virtually everywhere! Often times, I grab a pencil and anything that can be written on to create a very simple sketch of a style that passes by me. I love to assist the actors and performers in bringing a character to life through costumes and creating a beautiful picture through textiles.
My budget may not allow everyone to be costumed in the best of a certain era, but I find a trip to Goodwill and some tweaking can help create, not only a desired visual, but a spectacular one. Use the pictures found and sketches drawn as a guide when putting together patterns or tweaking an existing garment. An overall “look” can be created by adding specific elements to each of the costumes on the stage, without major cost. Every character does not have to be wearing all the elements, but you can paint the picture by strategically placing chosen elements throughout the stage.
Remember: Textures, layers, color and contrast! Years ago, when watching a movie, I began to notice what made the costumes so interesting. I realized that it wasn’t necessarily perfectly sewn seems (which we do strive for), but layers of fabrics, carefully chosen colors, and fabulous textures.
Head to Toe:
Costume from head to toe to get the look that looks complete. Whether it is a hat worn on the head, a carefully chosen hairstyle, shoes placed on the feet or gloves on the hands – each element is needed to complete the desired look.
Costuming is hard, hard work that can be offset by allowing yourself to be creative, enjoying the people you are working with, and serving, and surrounding yourself, with wonderful volunteers. Never underestimate the difference that a well-costumed show can make in the lives of, not only the performers, but the audience as they watch the story-canvas brought to life.