A Word About Dress
My Life as a Cohort
March 4, 2014
Today is the two-week anniversary of the first rehearsal of Geva Theatre Center’s world-premiere production of Informed Consent. Such a lot has happened since the 70 or so staff, cast, cohorts, and community partners first met. The set, costumes, props, sound, fog/haze, staging, and acting are well under way. Hard as it is for me to believe, we are already at the halfway mark, and in exactly two weeks, this play will begin public performances.
In these two weeks, I have visited the actors at work nine times and, in between, either literally followed in their footsteps or virtually followed their process through others’ blogs and Facebook posts.
To date, I have only seen the actors in jeans and sweaters, with an occasional lab coat, blanket or child’s tiara. It is time to visit the costume shop!
The costume shop is located just down the hall from the second-floor rehearsal room, but unlike the actors, the costume shop workers keep “regular” hours, 9:00 – 5:00, Monday – Friday. Last weekend, when I finally worked up the nerve to request a visit, they were closed, so today is my first opportunity.
When I was a child, my grandfather owned a men’s clothing factory in Minneapolis, and both of my father’s brothers worked there. My cousins and I used to get paid $1 each to put together swatch booklets displaying the fabrics of the men’s suits. From the leftover swatches, I made skirts for my dolls. The costume shop to me is like a miniature Liberty Garment factory that has been visited by a fairy godmother.
There are boxes and racks of ribbons and brightly colored threads, sewing machines, racks of clothing, pillows covered with safety pins, mannequins, feathers, old shoes, and, in another room, lots and lots of shoes.
At least four people are hard at work on my late afternoon visit. Katie, the First Hand, kindly answers all my questions as this is my first venture into a professional theatrical costume shop. What the actors will wear in the show begins with the designer. In this case, it is Amanda Doherty. From there on, the work proceeds in a line, with each professional doing a different part of the process.
Braden Lowen is the Head Draper. He makes the patterns. Katie informs me that actual vintage clothing is almost never used as a costume because it couldn’t hold up to the rough treatment it would get through eight shows a week. A piece of vintage clothing could possibly be worn a couple of times a year without disintegrating. And most designers like their work to be unique, created from scratch. For Informed Consent, Braden is not only creating the patterns for the dresses of the Havasupai women, he is also working from photographs to make nearly exact replicas of their extensive beaded shawl necklaces. The work is truly stunning.
Katie tells me that her job might be considered “middle management.” Katie, in turn, passes the costumes to Carol, who is the Stitcher. I have not met Carol, but have seen Mark, who is the head of props, using a sewing machine to create a pillow. And across the room, Tom, who is in charge of hats, headdresses, and shoes, is creating a beautiful headdress, also from photographs of the Havasupai.
Katie tells me that it usually takes three weeks to “build” a show from the actors’ measurements to the first dress rehearsal. Tomorrow, three of the actors have fittings. I think they are right on the mark.
I ask Katie what she likes about her job. She tells me that she loves the problem solving. The job is always different, always new and challenging. The hard part of the job is the time crunch, but that’s not something they’re not used to. And, Braden, in another corner, chimes in, “and she loves her draper!” Theatre is truly a collective medium from start to finish.