Sunday, September 14, 2008

There's Costuming...and Costuming

Sometimes the line between my job and my hobby gets a bit blurred. Like now.

As most of you know, I work for a costume designer. This does not mean that you can call us up and hire us to make you a powder blue Marie Antoinette dress. For starters, you probably couldn't afford it. It does mean, however, that we will rent you an outfit already in Ramona's inventory. And alter it to fit you.

Mainly, we work with the directors of plays. A director brings us a script and a cast list, and measurements of each cast member. Ramona reads the script and discusses the director's ideas of how he or she wants the production to look. Then, we pull costume pieces from the inventory, and adapt and fit them to the needs of the play. Sometimes we build things from scratch, like the twenty little-old-lady dresses for the "walker dance" in "The Producers." Basically, we design and construct the costuming for the entire show.

Ramona hired me after she saw me design a show for San Gabriel Productions, a now-defunct theater in Georgetown. Costuming small community theater shows has been a hobby of mine for 25 years.

So, thanks to my having developed some skill at this, I was lucky enough to land a paying gig. However, I still design and build small community theater shows as a hobby. I am doing this right now, with Sam Bass Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet."

There are some actors in "R & J" who have been in shows that have been designed by "A Cut Above Costumes," in other words, by Ramona, with assistance and some input from me. Professionally. In a situation where we are getting paid a decent amount of money to make sure everything is right.

Sometimes I think they forget that this show is being designed in my usual, volunteer, organic sort of way. I get an idea of what I want, and go shopping for it, both at the costume shop, at thrift shops, and cheap retail establishments (*cough*)(Walmart). I raid my own closet, and bring things in to see what works. I leave those things at the theater, and cart off what doesn't, and bring in more.

I am getting static for this from those who don't understand the difference.

For instance, a character needs a pair of white or off-white shoes. I scrounge everywhere, and the only ones I can find in his size are dance shoes. It is not exactly the right time of year to find men's white dress shoes on a minuscule budget. So, I bring in the dance shoes. He pulls them out of the bag and says, "Do you really want me in dance shoes?" With a little smirking sneer. I respond, "I want you in WHITE shoes!" With a cheery smile.

I am not going to have another fit.

But still, it rankles. I spent hours looking for his shoes. I have shopped through my lunch hours for over a week for this show (not just for him), and have sewn through a lot of hours when I should have been sleeping.

I am going to call a tuxedo rental shop on Monday, and if they don't have white shoes for rent, I'm afraid he's going to be stuck with the dance shoes.

What is so bad about dance shoes, anyway? the only visible difference between those and formal shoes is the thickness of the sole. If the audience notices that he is wearing dance shoes, it will only be because what the rest of him is doing isn't holding their attention.

One thing I have learned about designing costumes is that it is usually enough to suggest what you want the audience to believe.

If he had athletic shoes on, that would be noticed, because it would look incongruous with his ivory tuxedo. Dance shoes will not stand out that way.

I have nineteen other actors to dress, and can't afford to put days into finding him the exact shoes he wants. This is community theater, where we do the best we can with what we have to work with. We make do and mend. We take the lousy with the bad. We make lemonade.

If this were an "A Cut Above" production, Ramona would order the shoes from a distributor. Done and done.

With more time, I could have done that. But, in community theater, we have not the luxury of time. Or money.

I am a volunteer. What I want to hear is, "Thanks, Ronni...I love it!" Or, "The show looks really good!" Or, at worst, "Look, I know you have a lot to do, but, if you could possibly find me a different pair of shoes, I would really appreciate it."

I am an assistant storyteller. My ultimate satisfaction comes from seeing that my design furthers the story But a little understanding and consideration from the actors is always nice.

I don't think it's too much to ask.


  1. Maybe he could find his own **** shoes if the white ones you provide are unacceptable to him. Just a thought.

    By the way, very pretty picture of you, Ronni. It has a feminine softness that really befits you.

  2. Someone beat me to it! I was going to say let him get his own darn shoes.

  3. Maybe he thinks he is an "A" lister? cough.

    Ungrateful sod!

  4. OH RONNI!!! I completely understand how you feel I am very sorry!!! I hope things get better for you!