My good friend texted me again: “Would you be interested in making costumes….?”! This time, she had the script of Beauty and the Beast in her hand! It was her studio’s summer project and she wanted my help on ALL the costumes. While the offspring would be home for the summer, I eagerly said yes. The scope was much larger this time. Costumes would be created, bought and redesigned, and some unique challenges due to summer schedules. But I agreed to support “BS” (no, not THAT BS…it just happens to be the initials of her business!) and her musical director, “MD” .
The Guest List
The first challenge was casting this large production. I created a spreadsheet outlining all of the characters and their costume changes in the script. BS loaded it into a shared Google docs file and then she and MD fine tuned it over time. The studio likes to do two casts, so that the lead characters have a strong understudy at all times. This is great from an emergency perspective, but presents a unique challenge for costumes. Sometimes we were lucky with characters having similar heights or body types. Other times we had to create two costumes for one character.
In the case of Belle, we were lucky that the two girls were similar heights. All three of Belle’s dresses began with a purchased dress. I made some tweaks, including tacking down the pinafore to the shirt’s bodice. We did have to come up with a plan to pin the bodices differently for their body types. With Beast, we had two different heights to contend with, but luckily the top portions of the stock costumes were pretty forgiving. I sewed an elastic belt for the shorter “Beast”. We used this belt to pull up his trousers’ hem underneath the over sized frock coat.
All of the actors were under the age of 18, so there were unique challenges associated with summer schedules, family vacations and carpooling. We knew at the onset that there would be some characters missing at almost every rehearsal. I adapted by doing fittings whenever I could get a few minutes with the children in the studio before and after rehearsals. At first, this was manageable as we were estimating and brainstorming. However, as we got closer to tech week and the production itself, this proved very challenging indeed.
When one thinks of “Beauty and the Beast”, of course we all think of Disney. Both the animated and live action versions have Belle in a yellow dress, the beast is tall and wears a blue coat, and the rest seems to fade into the background. BS and MD wanted to maintain that color scheme, and then set the scenery in a palette of blue and purple. We were going to dress the villagers in jewel tones, and the “inanimate objects” in gold and white. Over time, MD wanted to see more browns introduced. We also added more white to the villagers to help tie them together a bit more. We chose a single, inexpensive gold fabric to be used where needed and I will explain more of this later!
It’s not in my nature to shop for items that we can borrow, create from existing materials, or repurpose. Before we started shopping for anything, the studio’s intern and I delved into the costume closet. She boxed things up by type and set up some shelves to help us access those bins. Ultimately, we found little that worked for the overall vision set by MD, but at least it’s ready for the next production!
We did find the gold trim I had salvaged from “Once Upon A Mattress“, as well as the purple hoop from Queen Aggravain, and a white & gold soldier’s uniform from an earlier show. I also hit up my personal stash of materials. I found some curtains discarded by a previous client and my father contributed his own beloved silk robe of 30 years (much to my mother’s delight!).
Absentee Party Planner
One of the biggest mental hurdles for me personally was the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be there for tech week and the production. Our family finally booked a real vacation in Colorado! (thank you to my wonderful clients!). And of course it was the same week. My planning took the approach of “try it on, even if it SHOULD fit”! And”how can I design this so someone can fix it if it should get damaged?”. As a result, I took meticulous notes and provided a backstage guide. My hope was that this would assist the stage moms that were involved in dressing the actors and swapping components between Casts A and B. I also encouraged the set up of a backstage emergency kit, and stocked it with a glue gun, duct tape, pins of various sizes, elastic and Velcro.
I also need to give a huge “THANK YOU” to Erica Read Miller. She is a wonderful photographer and has provided me with the needed final shots of the costumes on stage. Please check out her website at Photographie by Erica!
Please check out the next installment – coming soon!
Part 2 – Be Our Guest – Setting the Table