Let’s Set the Table…of Costumes
If you are following this story, you will know the challenges I faced as costume designer for the recent Batavia Studios’ production of “Beauty and the Beast”. In this installment, we are going to look at some of the costumes that required actual construction. Specifically, I will discuss the plates during the musical number “Be Our Guest”, Madame de la Bouche, Chip and Lumiere’s costume.
The largest costume on the list was also one that had to be the most durable. MD (“Musical Director”) and BS (owner of “Batavia Studios“) wanted dancing plates! The kids had to wear them, and they had to be as large as possible. I immediately focused in on insulation boards from Lowe’s as they would be the least expensive per inch, as well as a nice solid 2″ that wouldn’t snap. My worst fear was a bending or snapped plate when I was several thousand miles away! Initially, MD wanted 6 of these, but luckily this was reduced to 2.
I got the offspring to their respective camps and thought I could pick these up on my way to an appointment. I knew the sheets were 4′ x 8′ x 2″, but I have put ALL SORTS of stuff in our Toyota Highlander and assumed it would fit. It.did.not.fit.
Late to my appointment, I ran back in (as one does holding a 4′ x 8′ x 2” sheet of foam board) and begged Customer Service to hold it for me. The cashier was surprised at my request, but I seem to have that affect on people… Anyway, they put it behind the desk and I headed on my way.
A few hours later, I came back. I was advised to speak with someone in the Lumber Department and get it cut down to fit in my car. My goal was two 4′ diameter plates, so this seemed like a great idea. When I looked for a person to help me, I found a gentleman who was a new transfer from Florida. He didn’t seem to know where things were and thought I was crazy to cut the foam board. He found what appeared to be an antique serrated knife and hand cut the 8′ length in half. My offer to pay or tip was refused, as he mumbled something about being “up north”. I thanked him and headed back for attempt number 2.
I had the Highlander open and ready, but of course, the reason the foam didn’t fit the first time was the WIDTH, not the length. In case any of you were wondering, the diagonal measurement of a 2013 Highlander is just SHY of 48″. However, I can be very determined and used my entire body to shove that sucker into the car. I ended up with some rounded foam edges and a few shiny spots on my upholstery, but I was getting those foam pieces home NO MATTER WHAT!
Alas, my adventure with this giant blue board of foam wasn’t over yet. I knew it had to lay flat in my car for transport, so my goal was to get it to 44″ in diameter. The female offspring jumped at the chance to use my hot wire foam cutter, so she got to wear safety goggles and join her mom in the stinky experience of burning foam (Pro tip: Do this outside or in a garage with a fan blowing the fumes away from you. If you need to do this a LOT, please look into exhaust systems as it is not a minor thing to do this!)
Once we had the plates cut, I had to sand the lovely blue “Lowe’s” logo off in order to have a smooth coat of paint applied. The blue would show through my base coat, as well as it was an actual embossing. The last thing this costume needed to advertise was Lowe’s while singing “Be Our Guest”! So my goal was paint removal and taking the surface down to one level. Here is my best look to date…who needs makeup?
My next challenge was the geometry to secure the plates to the dancing children. The female offspring is currently in 6th grade, so she was perfect as the “median” size model. We played with buckles and webbing and found this criss-cross design worked best!
Choosing a (Costume) Pattern
After a coat of white paint, BS and I discussed the plethora of other projects coming my way. I am not a fine artist but appreciate that others love creating intricate embellishments. MaryGrace Nichol, a local muralist and art teacher at Batavia Studios, was more than willing to step in and help us at this stage. MaryGrace creates her own costumes for her many roles involving entertaining at children’s parties, so she understood my design challenges. In short order, she shaded the plates to read like the inside diameter was inset, and then added gold embellishments to the edges (She is available for lessons!). Didn’t she do a fabulous job?
We fit the kids (2 per show, so we did adjustable belts to fit all 4 bodies) and the costume plates were complete! Here they are on stage (montage by me, awesome photos by Erica Read Miller).
Dressing for Dinner
My next focus was the “Inanimate Objects”, or the characters we meet first in the story as objects. They are under the same spell as the Beast and their roles in life are mirrored by the trappings of their form. Madame de la Bouche is an opera singer who happened to be in the castle at the time of the curse. She assists Belle in her wardrobe selections and we had two lovely girls playing the role. This costume needed to be grand enough for an opera singer, but large enough to remind you that she “contained” many of Belle’s costume changes.
I had great rapport with the kids and some of them have had many roles in various productions. I heard complaints about the weight of the wardrobe costume (one production designer made it out of WOOD!), and the size of it prevented movement and various other challenges for the actor to overcome. Another child mentioned that the person wearing it in another production couldn’t get through the door.
For my design, I had to work with one girl who was taller and broader with shoulders that helped to support the frame, and one who was more petite with non-existent shoulders. One actor was broader from front to back also, so ideally, it would have been better to have two costumes. But with budget and time constraints, I added two inner belts, cushioned the shoulders with pool noodles covered in gold fabric, and decorated the front with real curtains from a previous client.
Watch out for “chipped” china!
Chip was my favorite character to dress for this production! This costume idea started with an office cart that a local friend posted on Facebook! She was in the process of helping her parents to downsize and it was sturdy enough to hold either girl playing the part.
Originally, I had planned to bolt recruit my husband and some bolt cutters to cut a hole in it. But once I met both casts, we realized both had little “Chips” and they fit perfectly in the upper basket. We found an old pillow and sheet, and made them a comfy nest. When I had wandered down the aisle of Lowe’s to get the the foam insulation for the plates, I had also found these wonderful vacuum-formed rafter panels, which were under $2 a piece.
Once the panels were on with zip ties, I cushioned the edges with pool noodles. Luckily, it was high summer and every Dollar Tree in the area had them in stock! I covered them with some of the gold material I mentioned earlier, and we were in business! Thank goodness for pool noodles (wait till you see next week’s post!).
The next component was a form for Chip’s teacup headpiece. In the initial stages, I felt this should be a plastic pot or bucket, but then I found a Dollar Tree laundry basket. My first plan was to tilt the “cup” 90 degrees as if Chip was “in” the teacup, but there was some concerns about how it would read on stage. I was also aware that lighting might be tough for this particular costume.
However, right before I covered it with the final materials, MD turned it 90 degrees so that the face of the child would be facing out of the former neck hole. So I revised the orientation and rigged up a “shelf” to rest on their head. A few pieces of pool noodles (loving the pool noodles!) also helped to prop the headpiece in the right spot, and ribbons were added so the actor could adjust it on stage without their hands seen and ruining the effect.
The last costume we will discuss today is the charismatic castle maitre’d, Lumiere. He’s a flirt and a rule breaker, so his costume needed to allow a significant range of motion to be properly expressed. This costume was less about being the character and allowing the actresses to BE Lumiere.
My intern and I found a jacket from a previous production involving Prince Charming, and I tried it on both girls. Luckily, despite a significant height difference, I was able to make it work for both of them. Alterations included shortening the sleeves under the epaulets, and then pulling up the tails from the back at the waistline. MD and BS provided the glittery tights and wig, but we were stuck on the candelabra portion.
A trip to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore had me considering a Tiffany-style hanging chandelier as a headpiece. But MD’s suggestion of a wig (sculpted by her with a LOT of hairspray) would give that freedom of motion so important to this character. So my focus switched to hand-held pieces that would invoke candles. After some trial and error, we ordered these electric LED candles from Amazon and used the tallest one in the bunch for each hand.
At this stage, both actresses and I kept missing each other, so I needed measurements taken remotely. Their parents were excellent sports! They provided me with the correct measurements using this handy sample I sent them of my own hand:
I taped the elastic and gold cuff were in place, and it was off to the studio. BS had arrived with batteries, so it was time to try it out. I took this lovely test shot of our actress for Cast A on the day before I left for vacation!
And the rest, as they say, is history!
Next week: Be Our Guest Part 3: A Recipe for Fun!