Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tessie's Costume From Gypsy: Hunting and Gathering

So. I'm retired. But I do take on the occasional project for one of my own. My own this time is friend Cynthia Miller-Ray. She's playing Tessie for all she's worth in a community production of 'Gypsy'. Would I make her costume? Absolutely. Said Southern style as I've said before....'Has a cat got an arse?"

So. What does a costumer go through when you take on a project?

  1. Step 1: Concept and Design. Here you study your character and discuss it with the director, stage manager, property and scene people and your actor. Who are they? What do they do in the production? Does their role have any special requirements like acrobatics, dancing, rigorous fighting? What colors or lighting effects do you have in your background? Should they stand out as a principal player or recede into the background as an extra? Think Meg Ryan in the red dress in a city street full of gray pinstripes and sensible shoe clad business women. You come up with sketches or mock ups and hash them over with your director, production staff and actors. Cindy approves my rough sketch. We've decided to stick with Tessie's 'Gotta Have A Gimmick' butterfly concept with wings, a body suit, headpiece with antennae and appliques in the fig leaf places.

  2. When the costume has been approved, you begin hunting down the basic ingredients of what you'll need to build the costume. In Cindy's case, I won't have to go through a huge amount of revisions, matching fabrics and colors with backdrops and pleasing the other production staff members. She trusts me and we've worked together for years so I know her style, what colors are good with her Titian coloring, turquoise eyes, and Amazon tall frame. We don't have to please any directors or scenery people in this case - one of the lovely things about working community theater rather than equity productions. They're mainly just tickled to have someone doing the chore for them.

  3. I hunt on eBay, the Internet, Etsy, through my own stash of fabric, for some baubles and trim. I make sure Cindy stands out in the crowd so I like to lavish on the glitz whenever I can. When we gather all our materials together we've got: About 2 pounds of various beads, rhinestones with rim sets, holographic textile glitter, stud sets and crystal in teal, purples and violets, and AB golds - thank you eBay sellers. We have an airbrush and propellant from Dick Blick so I can paint the wings and the skirts of her costume with butterfly markings along with basic paints to mix colors with and metallics in copper, gold and silver to highlight the markings. Two wooden dowels from the local crafts department are to channel into the upper edges of the wings so that she can 'fly' them. We got 12 yards of silk gauze for wings and skirts from Dharma Trading Company. And there's gorgeous oriental brocade in a purple with woven silk butterflies for a kimono from Joanne's fabrics. Her body suit is of a nude stretch net which will blend with her skin tone once it's all together.

Next we'll get on with construction. Stay tuned. Oh. And part three of the how-to tute is coming after I get up enough nerve to tackle the camera and construction again in a few days!

(Note: The pic above shows from left to right, top to bottom, sort of: Purple kimono brocade with embroidered butterflies, sketchbook, just above that the white silk gauze, to the immediate right of the silk, the basic airbrush colors plus opaque white and black, to the right of the basic airbrush colors is the beige power net. Just below the silk fabric, basic paints and power net are the two dowels for her wings, the bead assortment in the clear bead box, and Czech crystal heat set rhinestones and the boxes of rim set crystals. In the box on the upper right is the single action airbrush and components, CFS free propellant, metallic colors, and heavy grip textile glue.)

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