Saturday, August 24, 2013

Costuming a Stake Play for Beginners

y Guest Blogger: Cassidy Olsen
       My experience as a Costumer for our stake play was wonderful and exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time.  I had no prior experience in costuming. I liked to dress myself, but I had never been in charge of dressing others.  I liked going to the theatre, but I had never personally been a part of a play or production in any way, shape or form.  I didn't even know what stage left and stage right were!  Most of what was asked of me was like a foreign language.  This was good and bad, as I made the process my own, but didn’t really know if I was doing it right! I learned as I went and tried to think ahead to make things easier for me in the end.
       This is the definition I used when I started to analyze my responsibilities as a costumer for our stake play:
A costumer is the person who dresses the actors in a play.  This may include designing, creating, collecting, assembling, fitting, sewing, etc. 
        I didn’t have the first idea on how to do it, but I knew I had to clothe all of the actors in our play.  I knew the following were my responsibilities, and I asked myself a lot of questions along the way:
        FIRST, I needed to read the script and get to know each character to decide how they would dress.  I needed to understand the age and personality of the characters, and design the wardrobes accordingly. It was my responsibility to design the costumes and then costuming volunteers would help me to implement those designs and work with the actors. When planning costume designs, I knew that I needed to provide period-appropriate clothing that matched what our director and I had in mind for each character.  As this was a personal story for our director, it was very important for me to have her approval and insight in designing how the character looked.
        We were doing a play called In Search of the One about reaching out to each other and helping inactive members to come back to the church. It is set in the 1990's. As I read and reread the script, I had to ask myself a lot of questions. I took notes while I read. I'll post some of the questions and notes below so that you can get a feel for my thought process. Of course, all of my questions can be applied to the script for your play.
How did people dress in the early 90’s?  How can we make clothing we already have in our closets reflect that time period?
Do we have a budget? 
Will I be able to find assistance?  How should I utilize willing volunteers?
How can the costumes reflect the characters being portrayed? What hints can we give the audience about each character based on the costumes they are wearing?
How would a grumpy old man dress? What kind of clothing would be available to a rough woman who was battling alcoholism and on the brink of homelessness?
How many dresses would Tracy need?  How many ties should Andy wear throughout the course of the play?  How could the actors do quick clothing changes in between scenes?
How should Rachel’s hair be done to show her uptight personality in the beginning?  How can it be changed to show her change of heart towards the end of the play?  
How would our actors have easy access to their costumes?  How would they have privacy in making costume changes?  
-I need to outline character wardrobes and quick costume changes.  
-I need to find, collect, and fit costumes to the cast. 
-I need to work with the prop team and hair and makeup team to complete the character looks.
-I need to figure out storage and organization of the costumes during the production.   
        As I worked on completing these tasks, and answering these questions, I read the script over and over again.  I met with our director and production team to bounce ideas around.  I assembled volunteers and delegated responsibilities.  I asked a lot of questions.  I prayed a lot, and in the end it turned out great.  It’s hard to go step by step on how I did it, because each production is different, but I’ll tell you about my process and maybe you’ll find it helpful in your own experience. 

In the beginning…
        My first step was to read the script.  I read it many times through, and the first time I read it just to read it. I tried not to think too much of technical things, I just wanted to get a feel for the story.  Then I read it again- well, I guess the word to use is studied the script.  This time I took notes.  I wrote down everything that popped into my head as I read.  What I thought these people looked like, what I thought they would wear, how old they were, the colors they might look nice in.  I knew it would be difficult to dress characters that I knew nothing about, so I tried to see them in my head, and I tried to hear their voices.  As I made the effort to understand them, and as I prayed for help and guidance, I could see each character take shape. I also wrote when I noticed technical issues like quick changes or questions about the time of day and season. I then met with our director to discuss my thoughts, and to clarify her vision.  At that time I had a list of all the characters and details of their “look.”
        Next, I started creating documents to help me visualize each character and their costume needs.  Here is an example of one of those documents:
Jane: Woman in her late 40’s, Josh’s mom.  She’s living a hard life, her clothing will show it.
Items needed: Outfit, shoes, jacket.  New, nice dress for epilogue.
Details:  Her clothing should be worn, old fashioned, dingy.  She is shown 3 times in her old clothing, maybe add a jacket to change it up a little, but I would like to have her outfit be nearly the same in all scenes. The epilogue scene will show Jane cleaned up and looking nice.
ACT I scene 5, ACT I scene 9, ACT II scene 6, Epilogue
This is how Jane turned out:
        In the document above, I described the character, identified needed items, clarified how many outfits and changes were needed, and listed the scenes they appeared in.  This document helped in many ways, but it really aided in figuring out how I was going to change outfits to make them look like they were seen at different times or different days.  I knew we most likely didn’t have the resources to have, say, 5 different outfits for each main character.  But, I knew we could add small items to change the look a little bit.  I thought a lot about jackets, sweaters, scarves, vests, belts, hats, etc.  All of those items helped to change a look without having to really change it.  I would add and take away to create the subtle differences I needed. 
      In another document I went through the script and wrote down details of every scene.  This document went scene by scene, describing the characters involved, and what they would be wearing in each scene.  This helped me pinpoint costume changes and variations.  I could see when a character was shown on a different day, therefore I could note that they should be wearing a different outfit.  I could then more accurately communicate with the actors what they needed to wear and when. 
ACT II scene 2
Characters: Andy Nimmo, Josh Anderson, Humphrey Knickerbocker, Susan Wright, Rachel Fielding, Jake Fielding
Andy Nimmo- suit and tie- different tie from before (tie #5)
Josh Anderson- suit and tie- different tie from before (tie #4)
Humphrey Knickerbocker- classic old man outfit, variation from before (variation #4)
Susan Wright- dress- different from before (variation #5)
Rachel Fielding- dress- different from before, warm her up even more(variation #4)
Jake- Sunday best

ACT II scene 3
Characters: Susan Wright, Eva Ashby
Susan Wright- dress- same as scene before
Eva- similar outfit from before
        Our stake had a very minimal budget for costuming.  I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be able to buy much for the production-$40.00 won’t get you far, even at the thrift store.  So, I started brainstorming ways to collect the items we needed.  Luckily, the time period we were working with was the early 1990’s.  I knew that many people had appropriate clothing in their closets or in the closets of someone they knew. After a lot of thought, I decided to have each cast member responsible for collecting their costume items. To help them understand what they needed, I created a visual document that described each character, and had pictures of the type of clothing they would be wearing.  This was helpful because they had specific direction from me, and it reduced the amount of questions and concerns regarding what they should be looking for.  I encouraged them to search through closets, to ask on facebook and other social media, and to borrow from friends and family to find necessary articles.
Humphrey Knickerbocker: Grumpy man in his 70’s. Browns and greens.  Cardigans, plaids, suspenders, bow ties…
Items needed: Khaki or corduroy pants, plaid shirts, bowties, cardigans, pajamas or bathrobe. 
Details: He is in need of 4 variations of his regular outfit.  We can switch up the bowtie and or shirt, take away the cardigan and add suspenders.
ACT I scene 6, ACT I scene 7, ACT I scene 8, ACT I scene 9, ACT II scene 2, ACT II scene 4, ACT III scene 2

Costume suggestions for Humphrey:

Here is how Humphrey Knickerbocker turned out:
        Because our budget was so small, I also thought of having a clothing drive in our stake to collect needed items.  My thought was to have people donate old items of clothing, and we would be able to utilize those contributions that would work with the production.  The rest of the items would then be donated to local thrift stores.
        After letting each cast member know what items they would need to collect, I utilized willing volunteers to help me follow up with them. These people notified our director of their interest in helping in certain areas of the play.  She gave me their information, and I reached out to them.  I assigned each of my volunteers (costuming assistants) to be in charge of a few members of the cast.  Their responsibilities were to communicate with those actors, assist them in finding clothing items if necessary, and give pre-approval of costume items.  They were to make sure they had the items they needed by a specific rehearsal date.  On this rehearsal day, all cast members brought all of their costume items to be officially approved and amended if needed.  We spoke to them about when they would be wearing specific items, we worked out kinks in quick changes, and we made changes in their wardrobe as needed.  My assistants were also in charge of assisting their assigned cast members with quick changes during the production if needed.  For example, they would be standing just off stage with the clothing items needed for the next scene.  This helped the actor immensely. 
       After all costume items were approved, I kept tabs on everything until dress rehearsals.  We located rooms where costumes could be stored, and I found a few clothing racks and hangers to help organize costume items.  Our cast members were so well prepared and responsible, I didn’t have to worry too much about whether or not they were capable of bringing their costumes and changing into correct clothing for rehearsals and performances.  A few reminders and advice was all that was needed, and they figured out a system that worked for them.
        Final adjustments were made during dress rehearsals.  I watched them practice, consulted with the actors and our director, and made a few minor changes.  These changes were made to flatter the actor better on stage, or to adjust colors that didn’t look right with the lighting.  Final discussions occurred to ensure all were comfortable and confident in their wardrobe, and that we all agreed on details regarding costumes. 
        The play ended up being a success!  I saw many people touched by the message of this production- those performing, planning, organizing, and attending were all uplifted by the Spirit.  It was amazing to me to see the work of so many people come together in such a wonderful way.  We all have talents and abilities, and when we work together and invite the help of the Lord, great things can happen!