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Posts Tagged Megan West

I Kept Hearing Her Name

Megan West

Megan West.

During my two seasons at Park Square Theatre, I kept hearing her name: “We’d better check with Megan.”  “Go ask Megan.”  “Megan would know.”  And no wonder–as Production Manager of the theatre, she juggles a million tasks.  If you look at the long list of her duties, you’ll wonder:  What does she NOT do?

Park Square Theatre describes that its production manager “reports to the Artistic Director and liaisons with each production’s artistic team and current staff members to produce quality theatrical productions and provide supportive management to all its productions temporary employees” and that her key roles to be performed “are budget monitoring, contracting, artist payroll, production prep, auditioning and communication between departments.”  This means that, to be able to effectively fulfill all duties and responsibilities, West must have familiarity with what everyone else in the production team does and how they interconnect, possess strong management and financial skills, and basically serve as the central information unit for all departments involved in the production.  How do you prepare for such a massive job?

West first came to Park Square Theatre about ten years ago, straight out of Minnesota State University Moorhead, where she’d earned a B.A. in Theatre Arts with emphases in acting, directing, and theatre technology and design.  She quickly became an Assistant Stage Manager when the Assistant Technical Director asked West one day if she had any Friday plans.  She did not, they needed an assistant stage manager for the play Door to Door, and she was on her way.  West worked backstage for many different productions including Steel Magnolias, Constant Star and The Diary of Anne Frank before being hired as the Production Assistant.  That title grew into Production Manager along with the theatre.

In October, West goes on maternity leave while a temporary production manager steps in.  For a while, she can set down her many responsibilities at Park Square to go tackle another joyful challenge.

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.”)

 

TEST: Costumes 102: After the Show

TEST: Costumes 102: After the Show

In a previous blog, “Costumes 101: Before and During the Show,” Production Manager Megan West revealed how costumes are created or acquired and handled before and during the show.  But what happens to them after the play is over?

Park Square Theatre has minimal space for costume storage, and outside storage is expensive so very little is kept after a play is done.  Rented items are returned, actors may purchase costumes, and leftovers are donated.  Only very specific items that may be reused, such as Nero Wolfe’s yellow pajamas, and common stock that are often needed, such as white dress shirts, tailcoats, some shoes, wig heads and petticoats (great to wear during rehearsals if actors need to get used to the motion of full skirts), are stored.  During the summer, West goes through the labeled and well-organized bins again to look for overstock that can go.  Her rule for shoes:  If the lid no longer fits on the bin, then get rid of something.

     Costumes in Storage           Costumes Storage

Costumes in Storage

 The exception to the “toss rule” has been a collection of at least a dozen boxes of vintage wear by deceased costume designer Jack Edwards, whose career spanned over 50 years, taking him from Broadway to the Guthrie Theater.  Restoration cost for these handmade and sometimes fragile items would be costly, but thus far no person or organization has been interested in taking them as a donation to archive or use for educational purposes.  Every item in each box has been catalogued (numbered, photographed, and indexed).

Megan West with dress by designer Jack Edwards

Megan West with dress by designer Jack Edwards

The costume storage area is kept as orderly as possible with everything in its place, ready to be used for yet another show.

 

Costumes 102: After the Show

In a previous blog, “Costumes 101: Before and During the Show,” Production Manager Megan West revealed how costumes are created or acquired and handled before and during the show.  But what happens to them after the play is over?

Park Square Theatre has minimal space for costume storage, and outside storage is expensive so very little is kept after a play is done.  Rented items are returned, actors may purchase costumes, and leftovers are donated.  Only very specific items that may be reused, such as Nero Wolfe’s yellow pajamas, and common stock that are often needed, such as white dress shirts, tailcoats, some shoes, wig heads and petticoats (great to wear during rehearsals if actors need to get used to the motion of full skirts), are stored.  During the summer, West goes through the labeled and well-organized bins again to look for overstock that can go.  Her rule for shoes:  If the lid no longer fits on the bin, then get rid of something.

     Costumes in Storage           Costumes Storage

Costumes in Storage

 The exception to the “toss rule” has been a collection of at least a dozen boxes of vintage wear by deceased costume designer Jack Edwards, whose career spanned over 50 years, taking him from Broadway to the Guthrie Theater.  Restoration cost for these handmade and sometimes fragile items would be costly, but thus far no person or organization has been interested in taking them as a donation to archive or use for educational purposes.  Every item in each box has been catalogued (numbered, photographed, and indexed).

Megan West with dress by designer Jack Edwards

Megan West with dress by designer Jack Edwards

The costume storage area is kept as orderly as possible with everything in its place, ready to be used for yet another 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.”)

 

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