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TEST: Costumes 101: Before and During the Show

In theatre, as in real life, how one dresses reveals a lot about a person.  This summer, I asked Megan West, Park Square Theatre’s Production Manager, to tell me how costuming is handled from start to finish.  So she did!

Park Square hires a designer to create costumes for each play. Before meeting the cast, the costume designer has already done much character research to consider appropriate wardrobes to help create the characters’ identities.  S/he puts together a “collage book” for each character, consisting of fabric swatches to determine what colors, hues and textures to use, pictures from fashion publications or ads, online images and whatever else may seem indicative of the character.  All the while, s/he is also consulting with the play’s director to discuss what really works.

The costume designer also attends production meetings to collaborate with the set and lighting designers.  For instance, the set designer may know not to get a red sofa if costumes will be in red, or the costume designer may know not to create green costumes if a set will be designed using green tones.  The lighting designer also needs to know about chosen color-schemes to create effective lighting.

The actors will have been measured and had fittings as part of the costuming process, which gives them some idea as to what they will wear.  Not until technical rehearsals happen will the actors start wearing the costumes.  It is the time for them to get a sense of how it feels to move with the costumes on as well as to practice how to quickly change in and out of costumes.  The actors, in fact, have their wardrobe organized and labeled on a rack in the dressing room as well as provided with a list of their costumes.  Everything is organized to help the play run smoothly.

Not all costumes need to be “created from scratch.”  That is actually an expensive process so, more often than not, clothing is purchased from stores, usually on discount or used.  Clothing and accessories can also be rented at low cost–a dollar per week for jewelry, $3 per week for pants, $4 for coats.  Actors may even own personal pieces appropriate for the play, which the theatre pays them rent to use.

The designer’s job is not yet over even after the show has opened.  Audience reactions in the preview performances can influence costume changes.  For instance, if an orange dress causes laughter in a serious scene, then the designer must change the dress.  Or does a tank top on an heiress, for example, look cheap and shabby on stage when it shouldn’t?

Costumes must be kept clean throughout the play’s run, too.  Park Square has a  part-time wardrobe staff member who keeps track of laundering schedules and repair lists so a hired laundress knows what and when to wash in-house or dry-clean and what needs mending.  In general, clothing is washed every other performance, but articles that touch skin, such as underclothing and slips, must be laundered after each performance.  A helpful “trick of the trade” is to spray vodka on clothes as a disinfectant.  Once the play ends, everything gets a final wash.

When I have watched actors in performances, I was unaware of all that is involved in the costuming process.  So much meticulous attention to detail is necessary to design or acquire the right costumes and to maintain and organize them.  So much hidden work goes into creating magic on the stage.

              Calendar Girls Costumes          Calendar Girls Costumes

Some Costumes for Calendar Girls

 

(Look out for the upcoming blog, “Costumes 102: After the Show.”)

 

Costumes 101: Before and During the Show

In theatre, as in real life, how one dresses reveals a lot about a person.  This summer, I asked Megan West, Park Square Theatre’s Production Manager, to tell me how costuming is handled from start to finish.  So she did!

Park Square hires a designer to create costumes for each play. Before meeting the cast, the costume designer has already done much character research to consider appropriate wardrobes to help create the characters’ identities.  S/he puts together a “collage book” for each character, consisting of fabric swatches to determine what colors, hues and textures to use, pictures from fashion publications or ads, online images and whatever else may seem indicative of the character.  All the while, s/he is also consulting with the play’s director to discuss what really works.

The costume designer also attends production meetings to collaborate with the set and lighting designers.  For instance, the set designer may know not to get a red sofa if costumes will be in red, or the costume designer may know not to create green costumes if a set will be designed using green tones.  The lighting designer also needs to know about chosen color-schemes to create effective lighting.

The actors will have been measured and had fittings as part of the costuming process, which gives them some idea as to what they will wear.  Not until technical rehearsals happen will the actors start wearing the costumes.  It is the time for them to get a sense of how it feels to move with the costumes on as well as to practice how to quickly change in and out of costumes.  The actors, in fact, have their wardrobe organized and labeled on a rack in the dressing room as well as provided with a list of their costumes.  Everything is organized to help the play run smoothly.

Not all costumes need to be “created from scratch.”  That is actually an expensive process so, more often than not, clothing is purchased from stores, usually on discount or used.  Clothing and accessories can also be rented at low cost–a dollar per week for jewelry, $3 per week for pants, $4 for coats.  Actors may even own personal pieces appropriate for the play, which the theatre pays them rent to use.

The designer’s job is not yet over even after the show has opened.  Audience reactions in the preview performances can influence costume changes.  For instance, if an orange dress causes laughter in a serious scene, then the designer must change the dress.  Or does a tank top on an heiress, for example, look cheap and shabby on stage when it shouldn’t?

Costumes must be kept clean throughout the play’s run, too.  Park Square has a  part-time wardrobe staff member who keeps track of laundering schedules and repair lists so a hired laundress knows what and when to wash in-house or dry-clean and what needs mending.  In general, clothing is washed every other performance, but articles that touch skin, such as underclothing and slips, must be laundered after each performance.  A helpful “trick of the trade” is to spray vodka on clothes as a disinfectant.  Once the play ends, everything gets a final wash.

When I have watched actors in performances, I was unaware of all that is involved in the costuming process.  So much meticulous attention to detail is necessary to design or acquire the right costumes and to maintain and organize them.  So much hidden work goes into creating magic on the stage.

              Calendar Girls Costumes          Calendar Girls Costumes

Some Costumes for Calendar Girls

 

(Look out for the upcoming blog, “Costumes 102: After the Show.”)

 

Calendar Girls: Featuring Kory LaQuess Pullam

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Kory LaQuess Pullam:

pullam_kory_laquess

ROLE:  Liam, late 20s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Liam would like to be directing other things than photoshoots for washing powders.  He’s not so unprofessional as to let it show, but we can sense a slight weariness at having to deal with these women. . . . For Liam, this photoshoot is a job.  And not a job he wanted.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Kory LaQuess Pullam is a gifted young actor.  I saw his work at Park Square Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet.  He has a strong work ethic and a great ear for dialect.

QUESTION FOR KORY:

What characteristic or aspect of Liam seemed most important for you to bring out?

The most important thing to bring out in Liam is that this world is foreign to him.  He’s from the UK, but not the specific region of Yorkshire like almost everyone else.  Also, it’s important that we get the sense that Liam is bigger than all this.  He’s meant for more and doesn’t have a tough time showing it.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Romeo and Juliet  Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater: Choir Boy; Children’s Theatre Company: Charlotte’s Web; Pillsbury House Theatre: Prep; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Christians; Brave New Workshop: The Working Dead; History Theatre: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story  Training B.F.A., Acting/Directing, Stephen F. Austin State University  Other Founder of Blackout Improv  Upcoming Projects Guthrie Theater: The Parchment Hour; Underdog Theatre: Baltimore is Burning

 

Calendar Girls: Featuring Anna Hickey

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Anna Hickey:

Hickey_Anna

ROLE:  Elaine, 20s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Elaine really doesn’t mean to be so patronizing.  But Jessie [see blog featuring Linda Kelsey] seems from another world.  The world of her gran.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Anna Hickey has a really fresh, sensual inhabitation of the character of Elaine.  She also had great chemistry with Shanan Custer [who plays Ruth].  Anna has good comedic instincts and the ability to create a character with depth, which is important since her character is not on stage long.

QUESTION FOR ANNA:

Elaine is not an especially likeable character.  What did you think of her, and how did that inform your role playing?

I wouldn’t describe Elaine’s character as “not likable.”  She’s actually very charming and genuinely wants to help women feel better about themselves.  To a different group of women, she’d be a hit.  Of course, to the characters in this play she is problematic, but that is only five minutes of Elaine’s life.  It’s important to look at the whole scope of the character and not just the snippet the audience gets to see.  What is her history with male and female relationships?  What are her wants, desires and dreams?  I believe all characters are more than the sum of what we see on stage, and to me, Elaine is a woman who is passionate about beauty treatments, who has high hopes for a make-up career in film, who is greatly comforted by positive attention from others, and who is oblivious to the way her actions affect people.  And that is so much more fun to play than simply being unlikable.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square The School for Lies  Representative Theatre Hennepin Theatre Trust: The Realish Housewives of Edina; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Three Musketeers; Illusion Theater: My Antonia; Paul Bunyan Playhouse: Spamalot; Loudmouth Collective: A Bright New Boise; Bloomington Civic Theatre: Singin’ in the Rain  Training B.A., Theatre Arts, University of Minnesota; M.A., London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art  Other Freelance Choreographer and Teaching Artist with Stages Theatre Company

 

Calendar Girls: Featuring Karen Weber

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Karen Weber:

weber-karen

ROLE:  Lady Cravenshire, 60s; Brenda Hulse

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Lady Cravenshire really doesn’t mean to be so patronizing.  But the WI girls seem from another world.  The world of her estate workers.

(Tim Firth does not describe Brenda Hulse in the script.  She is a dull guest speaker at the WI.)

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Karen’s task in the play is to play two upper class characters very differently:  Brenda and Lady Cravenshire, and I wanted someone who could play each as a real person.  Karen possesses a strong upper class bearing; she can play that and is also a director so has lots of ideas to differentiate the two characters.  She is an actor with a clear vision about their differences.  She understands her own context and how to conduct herself.

QUESTION FOR KAREN:

Brenda Hulse and Lady Cravenshire both come from uppercrust, high society.  How did you consciously differentiate the two?

I think the thing that Brenda and Lady Cravenshire have in common is that they are not originally from this tiny little dale.  They are both highly educated women and come from a higher income bracket than the women of Knapely.  As such, they speak with a very proper dialect, project a sense of superiority and are automatically afforded social deference as class differences are more noted in British society.

How that superiority is played, really, is the essential difference in the way I approached these two characters.

Brenda is something of a self-proclaimed, self-made Academic–an essentially insecure woman whose life has a singular focus and insular scope, and her self-esteem revolves around her rank in the national WI organization.  She displays superiority over the women of Knapely with her judgmental approach and thinly veiled condescension.  In her case, “High Class” doesn’t mean she HAS class.

Lady Cravenshire, on the other hand, is far more confident in her rank and right.  She is the only one who is “to the manor born,” and this allows her to come from a place of appreciation and graciousness with the women of Knapely.  Where Brenda finds Chris’ actions grating, Lady Cravenshire finds Chris’ actions creative and worth congratulating.

Together they help to round out the world of the play and point up the social obstacles that the women of Knapely face in choosing to do this calendar.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Communicating Doors, Becky’s New Car  Representative Theatre Ordway: A Little Night Music; History Theatre: Hiding in the Open, The Grand Excursion, Fireball; Bloomington Civic Theatre: Follies, A Light in the Piazza, Master Class; Theater Latte Da: A Christmas Carol Peterson, Burning Patience; Minneapolis Music Theatre: Bat Boy the Musical, Chess; Plymouth Playhouse: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; Illusion Theater: Autistic License

 

Dress for Success

In Calendar Girls, a group of women raise money for a good cause by posing nude for a calendar.  In the process, they end up giving each other invaluable personal support as well.

It is only fitting then that during the run of Calendar Girls, Park Square Theatre has welcomed audience members to donate gently used professional attire or handbags to Dress for Success Twin Cities, an organization devoted to, as their website describes, “empower(ing) women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”  Dress for Success is part of a global movement to help women break out of cycles of poverty.  For a fuller description of this amazing organization, go to www.twincities.dressforsuccess.org.

If you wish to donate any items, Park Square Theatre will collect them through Sunday, July 24.

Many of Dress for Success’ clients go directly to job interviews after “suiting up,” so please be sure that all donations are ready to wear, no more than five years old, and something that you would be proud to put on for an interview.  Handbags are particularly useful to complete the professional look.

The response from Park Square theatre-goers has been terrific, and we extend a BIG thank you to all for your generosity!

 

Dress for Success vehicle filled with Park Square Theatre donations

Dress for Success vehicle filled with Park Square’s donations

Let’s Talk About It!

Whenever I book theatre tickets, I tend to aim for a date when some form of post-show discussion will occur.  I love the opportunity to gain more insight from those involved in the play as well as audience members.  These discussions are also wonderful because we get to talk, not only on a variety of topics, but also face-to-face.

As an usher for student groups during the school year, I have also seen firsthand how post-show discussions give the scholars that extra bit of understanding or chance to satiate their curiosity.  I have seen how cast members light up in their interactions with students, eager and honored to learn from each other.

For audience members of any age, these post-show dialogues make our experience at the theatre just that much more meaningful.  Park Square Theatre knows this and has been offering an unprecedented number of opportunities to connect with each other after seeing Calendar Girls.  A few cast Q&As have already occurred, including one with Twin Cities theatre bloggers, but still to come are two more events not to miss:

Jamil Jude

Jamil Jude

 

Musing: Saturday, July 9, after the 2 pm show

You are invited to gather with fellow audience members for an open discussion about Calendar Girls.  Artistic Programming Assistant Jamil Jude will be your host in a conversation that will focus on the importance of seeing a diversity of women on stage.

 

Salon: Saturday, July 16, after the 2 pm show

After the Saturday matinee join community leaders and experts to discuss how women are portrayed onstage and the effects of seeing so many powerful roles played by women. You choose where the discussion leads! Moderated by Alicia Wiesneth.

Come and sit down.  Talk much.  Listen.  Learn.  Laugh.  Enjoy!

Calendar Girls: Featuring Ryan Colbert

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Ryan Colbert:

colbert_ryan

ROLE:  Lawrence, late 20s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Hesitant without being nerdy, Lawrence is a shy young man with enough wit to make a joke and enough spirit to turn up at the WI hall in the first place.  When he arranges the shots, he is close to female nudity but sees only the photo.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Ryan is a really genuine actor and gentle, kind human who has strength—a great combo.  Another reason I cast Ryan is that he resembles John Middleton who plays Annie’s husband, John.  They are both tall, slender and gentle.  At one point in the play, Annie mistakes Lawrence for her deceased husband.  I liked the possibilities their resemblance opened for the story.

QUESTION FOR RYAN:

Lawrence grew close to John in the hospital and understands what the calendar signifies from the start.  When he is with the women, I like Chris’ line, “You’re making the fatal mistake of confusing ‘naked’ with ‘nude.’”  What is your favorite line in the play?

There are many lines that I’m delighted by or that strike me in a way, most of which I don’t say myself.  Some that just make me laugh are “John Clarke’s knapeley knee trembler” or “turn your mouth into liquid Yorkshire.”

When Ruth enters the photo-taking scene, her line is simple, but her honesty and delivery (underneath her drunkenness) strike a chord that echoes throughout the story for all of the women.  She says “I can do this.”  All the women, I think, take a leap in making the calendar with a fierce sense of “I can do this,” while the actors themselves do, too.  And for Annie, as the heart of the play suffering a great loss, I think that determined sentiment is very real for her as she learns to live without her husband and continues to see beauty in the world.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Romeo and Juliet, Great Expectations, The Color Purple 
Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater: Choir Boy, Born Yesterday; Pillsbury House Theatre: Prep; Mixed Blood Theatre: Charm, Colossal; Red Eye Theater: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow; Intermedia Arts (Fringe): Habibi; New Epic Theater: The Picture of Dorian Gray; Public Theater of MN: Macbeth, As You Like It; Minnesota Centennial Showboat: The Vampire, Demon Barber of Fleet Street 
Training
B.F.A., University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program 
Upcoming Projects
Guthrie Theater: A Christmas Carol

 

THERE IS A POST-SHOW CAST Q&A ON SUNDAY, JULY 3.

HERE’S A CHANCE TO ASK YOUR OWN QUESTIONS!

Calendar Girls: Featuring Julia Cook

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Julia Cook:

cook-julia

ROLE:  Marie, 50s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Marie has gradually built the current ‘Marie’ around herself over the years as a defense mechanism.  She went to her Oz, Cheshire, and found Oz didn’t want her.  She came back scorched.  The WI is a trophy to her, which justifies her entire existence.  There is a lingering part of Marie that would love to be on that calendar.  Ideal car—something German and well-valeted.  Ideal holiday—a quasi-academic tour of somewhere in Persia advertised in a Sunday Supplement which she could then interminably bang on about.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Julia is great with dialects and playing high status.  I really liked the humanity I saw in Marie as Julia read in auditions.

QUESTION FOR JULIA:

Marie could have easily become a caricature but gets more fleshed out as the play progresses.  Can you comment on the challenge of gradually bringing down her armor and letting us see her vulnerability?

Marie, in many ways, is the antagonist in this piece.  She is the presence that the other girls rebel against, especially Chris. And you are right; it would have been easy to make Marie a villain or at the very least a complete buzz-kill!  But nobody in real life is ever only just ONE thing–not if they are a fully fleshed out human being.  There is a very good reason why Marie is the way that she is. It comes from pain and a scandal left behind; it comes from a need to make this women’s group the absolute best that it can be. She desperately loves the WI and what it stands for!  And you would be frustrated, too, if members of your organization volunteered, promised to be there, to follow through, and then dropped the ball continuously.  It would be maddening, right?!  Especially if you are the kind of person who always does exactly what you say you will do and would never dream of flaking on that.

I am glad that Tim Firth wrote a scene for Marie where you get a glimpse of her past and the sadness that she has experienced. You also get a glimpse of the tricky history that she has with Chris…and the ouch of never being invited to hang out with the cool kids.  As an actor, a role like this can be challenging but ultimately rewarding as one finds all the dimensions of a potentially “unlikable” character!

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Debut
Representative Theatre Old Log Theater: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Theater Latte Da: NEXT: New Musicals in the Making; North American Tour: Mamma Mia!; Asian Tour: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (starring Lea Salonga); New York Fringe Festival; St. Luke’s Theatre; Metropolitan Playhouse; Asolo Rep
Training B.F.A., Acting, University of Texas, Austin; M.F.A., Acting, Asolo Conservatory/Florida State University

 

THERE IS A POST-SHOW Q&A WITH CAST ON SUNDAY, JULY 3. 

HERE’S A CHANCE TO ASK YOUR OWN QUESTIONS!

Calendar Girls: Featuring Laurel Armstrong

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Laurel Armstrong:

armstrong-laurel (1)

ROLE:  Cora, around 40

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Cora’s past is the most eclectic, her horizons broadened by having gone to college.  This caused a tectonic shift with her more parochial parents.  She came back to them pregnant and tail-between-legs, but Cora has too much native resilience to be downtrodden.  She is the joker in the pack, but never plays the fool.  Her wit is deadpan.  It raises laughter in others, but rarely in herself.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Laura Armstrong is an actor who feels her character deeply.  She had an affection for Cora in the audition that moved me.  Laurel is a mother so when she talks about her child in the play, she is so believable.  She also has a gorgeous voice, which you’ll hear when she sings “Jerusalem” at the play’s opening.

QUESTION FOR LAUREL:

Cora is a very complex character.  What did you learn from playing her?

I found that Cora reminded me a great deal of a friend of mine from college.  My friend was a brilliant musician, a good judge of character, and had a sense of humor that was deadpan but bitingly honest.  Playing Cora reminds me of my friend’s ability to see both the best and worst in people and how she tried to balance disappointment with humor and sincerity.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square: Debut
Representative Theatre: Flying Foot Forum: Alice in Wonderland, Heaven; Girl Friday Productions: Camino Real, Street Scene; Workhaus Collective: A Short Play About 9/11; Nautilus Music Theater: Reach, Rough Cuts; Sesame Street Live: 1-2-3 Imagine!; Bloomington Civic Theatre: City of Angels, Into the Woods, Les Miserables; Theatre Latte Da: NEXT: New Musicals in the Making 
Training: Studied Music Theater at Brigham Young University

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