One of the many backstage roles you can take on as a member of the Progressive Players is volunteering as part of the wardrobe team. In this blog we hear from Gillian, who along with Marie took on the challenge of dressing Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime so everyone on stage looks their absolute best.
I have helped in wardrobe for a little while now, but this is the first time that I have taken on (with my co-lead, Marie) the task of dressing a large production. The start of the process is of course reading the play and figuring out each character’s needs. Research is done regarding the time setting of the play so that wardrobe can get the ‘look’ right. Next is consulting THE BOX. The Box is a card index of members’ vital statistics (do not leave these cards lying around as nobody wants their inside leg measurements made public knowledge!) so that, after we get a cast list and have the first production meeting (when we get directors’ input on character’s dress needs), we can get on with rifling through our collection of costumes even before we see cast members.
Wardrobe is a very physical role; climbing up and down ladders to rifle through double height rails of very tightly packed costumes and lifting boxes of items up and down from very high shelving.
We have four large rooms of costumes but we also have stuff secreted throughout the theatre – on landings, within other departments’ spaces and in our office as we are literally bursting at the seams. The office houses, among other things, a large collection of costume jewellery which has to be matched to each character.
Fitting consists of the cast visiting for – sometimes – many times until the directors are happy with their costumes. Costumes are then taken to the dressing rooms, where sometimes repairs or last minute alterations are made.
Wardrobe has to be seen to be believed – it’s a literal Aladdin’s cave of delights – but even so, we don’t always have what we need, so we source stuff from other places such as The People’s Theatre in Newcastle, who have supplied us with two umbrellas which are being used in this production.
I have no particular favourite costume for this show, but I do have one which I would be more than happy never to see again… this costume is a dress which needed to be shortened. It is made of very slippery material which seems to have a life of its own when you’re trying to hem it, sliding off your knee in an alarming manner, the sheer weight of the thing dragging itself away from wherever you are working. That hem was also 14.5 feet long! We don’t often alter things permanently as we need to fit and refit but after many attempts to tame the thing, I gave up and just stuck the thing down. It’ll have to take its chances afterwards when it needs to be refitted.
After the play run, all the costumes must be checked, laundered, mended and put away for the next time.
Dressing a production is time consuming, sometimes frustrating, mostly fun, often hilarious task. But on balance, I think I will look back on this production and think that all was worth it. I’ll let someone else take on the next one though……