Behind the Scenes: The Costume Shop

This post is part of the Behind the Scenes series, an introduction to all the departments at Geva and how they help make our shows happen.

The costume shop is a bit of an anomaly in Geva’s production departments. In general, theatre shops are tasked with producing good fakes: “hardwood floors” that are really painted-on wood-grain patterns, “sand” that’s really ground-up rubber, “whiskey” that’s really water with food coloring, and so on. The costume shop, on the other hand, mostly makes things that are exactly what they seem to be. They may be doctored up a little bit, perhaps to look old when they’re really brand new, but the fabrics, patterns and accessories are all as authentic as possible.

Most of the responsibility for achieving that authenticity belongs to Costume Shop Manager Amanda Doherty, also known as the Internet Search Guru (though she knows so much without looking it up that I think of her more as a living, breathing Wikipedia). She’s also responsible for balancing artistic ideals with the production’s needs – like the budget, the schedule, and how quickly actors have to change their costumes.

Costume rendering by Clybourne Park designer Skip Mercier
Costume rendering by Clybourne Park designer Skip Mercier

Amanda’s second-in-command is Draper Janice Ferger, who makes the technical decisions about how to build each costume piece. Costume designers provide drawings, or renderings, that show what they want the costumes to look like. It’s up to Janice to create the patterns that will translate that vision into three dimensions.

Aaron Muñoz during a fitting for The 39 Steps
Aaron Muñoz during a fitting for The 39 Steps

To check the pattern, she’ll make a mock-up of the piece in muslin for the actor to try on. This fitting is the chance to discover anything that needs to be adjusted before anyone starts cutting up the fabric for the costume piece – which is usually much more expensive than muslin.

Once the pattern is perfected, it gets handed over to First Hand Katie McCarthy. Her title means that hers is the first hand to touch the fabric that will appear on stage. After Katie cuts out the pieces of the pattern, most of the sewing is done by Stitcher Carol Unrue – though everyone in the shop pitches in as deadlines loom closer.

The final member of the costume shop team is a Craftsperson, who makes any costume pieces that aren’t clothing – which means jewelry, shoes, hats and so on – and does most of the distressing (that “doctoring up” I mentioned earlier). Longtime Geva Craftsperson Tom White retired at the end of last season, leaving some big shoes to be filled when his replacement arrives in September.

Of course, not every costume is built from scratch. For plays set in the present, Amanda does a lot of shopping (and returning). And we have a large stock of costumes from past productions that many designers are willing to re-use. That’s great for production budgets, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of time-saving – pulling options from an off-site warehouse, choosing one that will work, and altering it to fit the actor is still a big job.

Even with all their hard work – and beautiful results – here’s the real proof of how passionate the costume shop staff is about what they do: every time I see them taking a break, they’re knitting or crocheting more articles of clothing!knitting


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