I have just bought tickets to a one day workshop at Milton Keynes Theatre to learn about how a costume department works during a production 🙂 Costume Design and Stage design for theatre has always been an interest of mine and i want to learn more and gain some experience in this area, and as i have not had any luck finding work experience so far in this area i think it would be good to have this day of experience backing me 🙂
I have just bought tickets to a one day workshop at Milton Keynes Theatre to learn about how a costume department works during a production. Costume Design and Stage design for theatre has always been an interest of mine and i want to learn more and gain some experience in this area, and as i have not had any luck finding work experience so far in this area i think it would be good to have this day of experience backing me.
I have attended this workshop on the 2nd of January and it was really enjoyable and gave me a huge insight into the career of a costume designer for theatre and also a dresser for theatre companies. This workshop was led by the resident dresser who is also a freelance costume designer named Rowena. A dresser is part of the technical team and Rowena has played that role at Milton Keynes Theatre for 14 years.
Milton Keynes Theatre is what’s known as a receiving theatre, everything comes with the show including costumes, props, sets , lights and even flooring. A big show has around 7 truck’s full of stuff, whereas an opera has at least 12 trucks. The phantom of the opera has a record 22 trucks full of props, costumes and sets. The theatre has no on site creative’s or prop makers. Costumes arrive in trundle boxes, one per character and it contains everything for that character right down to shoes and small props. These are often very squashed in, headdresses arrive in wooden boxes and ball gowns arrive in calico bags. Accessories are in a large bag at the bottom of the trundle box, below is an example of a trundle box:
I learnt quite a lot of information about theatre practice from this talk, it turns out when someone says down stage they actually mean the front of the stage because it slopes down towards where the orchestra stand.
Sewing machines and ironing equipment also come with the show, but the theatre have their own too. Conventional methods of washing and drying cannot be used with theatre costumes, they are dried using a hot box, there is also a separate hot box for the wig department called a wig oven, because they are very delicate and must be dried slowly. Each cast member will have a plastic box where they put things that need to be washed or repaired. Below are images of some of the costumes and wigs we were shown on the day:
this is the demonstration of how clothes are arranged for a quick change, they are arranged in a way the actor can just step into them, all layers at once, and shoes are tied but elastic is inserted into the shoe to make it so they are slip on and off, to ensure there is no time wasted.
This blue costume, belonged to Barbara Windsor for a pantomime in which she was the fairy godmother. It’s a very old costume and has notable tears but I think this makes it more beautiful, it’s a very detailed dress with lots of frills, pleats and embellishment, and it has detachable wings. The wings are wire with a very delicate covering that’s heavily sequinned.
some wigs/ head pieces from previous theatre shows, when an actor has a quick change to do between a scene, they only have a matter of minutes if that, so wigs are turned inside out ready to pull on and stage assistants arrange the wig on the actor whilst they are dressing.
Details on the Fairy Godmother costume are above, although the costume is old with tears in, i think this makes it more beautiful because it shows its fragility, and the combination of materials and ruffling techniques look amazing.
this is the tiara from a previous pantomime worn by Barbara Windsor! i noticed it has hooks on the back so it can be pinned into a wig or hair piece prior to the show. above is what each actors costumes are delivered in, they get a box wardrobe each that includes costumes, shoes, make up and any props they may need.
I also learnt about quick changes, which are indeed very quick , a full change including wig change can take 45 seconds and the actors are assisted by 2 dressers. I have put my notes from the day in with this written evaluation. I liked this talk, it was an interesting insight into the different roles within the theatre and the pressure involved with being a dresser is a lot higher than I expected! Apparently its also quite a messy job, because the actors get sweaty and its hard to not get covered when you are undressing them and re dressing them. I took lots of pictures of how the clothes are laid out for a quick change, everything is laid on a chair ready to put on , shoes have elastic put in them so they are slipped on, with fake laces over the top. The only item of clothing that has to be undone and put on separately are corsets, especially for the opera or for pantomimes. I heard a lot about how costumes are prepped and washed, and this falls to the dresser to do and is quite a long laborious process. I think I would rather be in the position of the designer opposed to the dresser because I’d like to be involved in the creative part of the theatre.