Inner Circle Newsletter

A Perfect Fit

Behind the scenes in the Costume Shop

     Tracking.  Mapping.  Cutting.  Draping.  All in a  day’s work for North Shore Music Theatre’s costume department.  While the costume shop is responsible for everything that is worn on stage- from wigs on heads to shoes on feet- what goes on in the costume shop is like a full scale production, precisely choreographed. 

     Everyone in the NSMT costume shop has a specific role.  The Costume Designer is responsible for the entire look of the show from start to finish.  From determining the color palette of the costume, to deciding shoe styles to what accessories will be needed.  Cutting, draping and assigning tasks are the responsibility of the Costumer, and the Costume Shop Manager takes care of fittings, pinning garments and everything that happens in the shop before the musical gets on stage.  The Wardrobe Supervisor is responsible for all the costumes once they leave the shop, including tracking where the actors and their costumes are so changes can be made quickly.   Finally, the Costume Coordinator handles all finances and  budgeting for the department.  It’s a role that takes a knack for business and a creative eye, and Joanna Murphy, NSMT’s Costume Cordinator, has both.   

     According to Murphy, working in-the-round has challenges that costume departments  at theaters with a proscenium stage simply don’t have.  “With a proscenium stage, actors exit stage left and stage right to amke their costume changes.  At NSMT there are 10 different places for actors to change and if you multiply that by 20 actors for a big group number, its imperative that we know excatly who is wearing what and where they’re going to change.  We actually map out actors’ routes so our dressers can meet the actors and get them changed quickly”.

     The whole costuming process begins two to three months before a show opens with a script reading and a determination of the costume plot which specifies how many costumes will be needed to tell the story, to show time of day, and to reflect the period of the piece.  After talks with the director and choreographer, it’s time to build, shop and/or rent.

     NSMT builds many of it’s own costumes on site.  From sketches to muslin mock ups to fittings to trim, it’s a very time-consuming and expensive process.  Some costumes are rented from costume houses that specialize in theatrical clothing.  If a costume is rented, the following rules apply- no dyeing, cutting, or design changes.  Then, there’s the shopping.  What might look like a modern shirt in the store may actually turn into something medieval on stage.

     Built, rented or bought, Joanna says being in-the-round means that the backs of all the costumes need to be perfect, and they must move when the actors dance.  Joanna says the biggest problems come from broken zippers and splitting pants.  A secret- most pants are built with lycra panels in the pant seat to allow actors to dance comfortably. 

     So behind every shoe, sequin, zipper, button or tie, there are people who had a dream about how the show should look, and on stage in front of thousands of patrons, their dream has become a reality.   A perfect fit.


  -Excerpted from Inner Circle Newsletter Volume 1 Fall/Winter 2006