Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Costume Care

There are a couple of different ways that costumes get picked up. Sometimes the director collects them all, which is a long process, as Ramona personally checks every piece with the director, down to hair ribbons and socks. Sometimes the individual actors are designated to pick up their own. Again, Ramona goes over each piece, physically showing the actor the piece and showing them where it's listed on the invoice. She also goes over the invoice, showing the actor the due date, and telling them which pieces need to be dry cleaned and which can be washed. When advising people to wash pieces, Ramona always specifies cold water and drip dry.

She sits up nights, writing those invoices. Each is hand-written, listing every piece for which that actor is responsible. For a show with fifty actors, each with four complete costumes, this takes hours.

Of course, the first thing actors do is lose the invoice. It is, after all, just another piece of paper. So, when they return the costume, we hear a lot of, "Oh, I never had a red vest." Well, yes...yes, you did, otherwise it would not be written on your invoice. Whether you dropped it in the trunk of your car, left it at the theater, or the dry cleaner lost it, you are still responsible.

Sam Bass Theater has a system that actors like. Or, at least, it's in place when I costume a show. I rent individual pieces from the shop, and find other things at the theater and in my closet, or they just emerge from my sewing machine. I take them to the theater, and collect them all afterwards. The theater pays for dry cleaning, and I wash anything that can be laundered.

The Palace requires actors to pay $25 toward the rental of their costumes, and each actor picks up his or her own, and each actor is responsible for the cleaning of his or her own.

Some schools are very organized, either copying each invoice to give to each actor, so they have a list of the pieces for which they are responsible, or typing in the list from the invoice and printing that out, which makes it easier to read. Kids lose things. Most do not understand the importance of things like socks, gloves, bow ties and other small accessories.

A lot of adults don't understand, either. Especially in theaters where there is chaos backstage (and that would be most of them) and pieces get borrowed--"OMG! I can't find my belt, and there's my cue!" "Here...take mine!"

I have to wonder what actor it was who thought that washing (and drying) a pair of tuxedo pants was a good idea. As a rule, evening gowns of any period don't wash well, either. Nor do satin showgirl outfits. Please, people...when in doubt, dry clean it! And, by dry cleaning, I mean taking it somewhere and having it done professionally. Tossing it in the dryer with a home dry-cleaning sheet does not count. There is a vast range of quality and price with dry cleaners, and we have one we recommend that is local and cleans everything on site at a very reasonable price. You do not have to take your costumes to the place that charges extra for stuffing all the sleeves with tissue paper--we are just going to pull that out and throw it away.

I guess the gist of this rant is: LISTEN to your costume designer, SAVE your invoice, and RETURN everything you have been issued. On time would be nice, too. We always designate a return date, usually about a week after the show closes, to allow time for cleaning. There are reasons for that, one of which is that we can allow for the time it takes to check your costume pieces in. If you bring them in two weeks late, you may have to stand around waiting while we check out another show. For all you know, or we know, we may need your costume for the very show we are working on right now. We don't use it exclusively for YOU. We don't just hang it up until YOU need it again. You have no idea how many other shows we are working on at any given time, and any one of them could require that red and gold dress you've been forgetting in your closet for a month.

I've been trying to talk Ramona into charging a late fee, but, so far, she's too nice to do that. She should not have to call actors two or three times to get them to return costumes. "Out of town," "sick," "Forgot them at the cleaners," "I live so far away..." We have heard them all, and not one of the excuses trumps our need of the costume. You got your butt in here to pick it up in a timely manner, please do us the courtesy of returning it the same way.


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