Once Upon a Pastel Dream…
I have a very good friend, collaborator, patron, mentor, and fellow mama in my tribe and when she texts “Would you be interested….?” I sit up straighter and get out my calendar. Let’s call her “BS” (no, not THAT BS…it just happens to be the initials of her business!). We met for coffee with her musical director, “MD” (did I mention she also owns a music studio?) in September 2017 to discuss her latest endeavor, the musical “Once Upon A Mattress”, and I’m glad I started a new notebook!
For those of you unaware of this hilarious and musical version of “The Princess and the Pea”, you need to bookmark this blog, open up your IMDb app, and add “Once Upon A Mattress” with Carol Burnett (2005) to your Watchlist. Ok, done? Back to my story…
As I had not had a chance to screen the movie, I didn’t have a point of reference. But my notes from that day are peppered with phrases like “Drape like the Three Musketeers”, “faking boots?”, “Seinfeld puffy sleeves”, “13-15 costumes”, and “flowery synchronized singing meets the Renaissance”. BS asked me to work up a quote, and MD and I hit Pinterest and Google like our life depended on it. We traded imagery of tunics and knights, and suddenly, I was presented with an image of the Queen of Hearts in a high collar.
“Would you be interested in making a stand up collar for the Queen too?” I was asked.
“Is it ok that we have two casts: teen Queen and a tween Queen?”
This was NOT going to be 15 tunics…
MD had a pastel dream in mind and even the spreadsheets ended up in pastel! I was given a list with four columns, including character names, two names of children, and a color. The tunics were to coordinate with purchased gowns from Amazon, and we had to “match” cotton to chiffon. This proved our first hurtle, as anyone who has tried to match a shiny and matte paint will attest. Add the yellowish tint of the overhead lighting in the cotton department of JOANN Fabrics, and you can see how this would prove to be a challenge. A few swatches were purchased and compared in the light of day, giving us a palette of Symphony Broadcloth, Country Classics and Premium Quilt cottons in Light Pink, Mint, Medium Pink, Blue Radiance and Iris in a 44” width.
Now that we knew the color palette, I needed to work up a quote, but still needed the yield of the tunics themselves. I generated a pattern of a “maximum” size in muslin and brought it to one of the children’s Saturday rehearsals with a slew of safety pins and a few collar inserts, guessing (correctly) that a few little heads would need smaller neckholes. I knew some of these kids from my summer of teaching them Theater Design, and the rest as my children’s friends and colleagues with a few new personalities in the mix. The idea was that both casts would alternate, giving the lead to the big kids the first night and the little kids supporting them in the ensemble. Those kids would swap for the second performance, thereby also building in the understudies for both performances. Easy peasy! Until I realized that the kids had a WIDE range of height, with 1st graders through high schoolers! We settled on FIVE sizes based solely on height, labeled “XS” through “XL”.
The spreadsheet grew…some kids had to share with other kids due to height differences, and some kids needed a different color. One child had a growth spurt from the muslin test fit to the first fitting. And some kids must have slouched! But I became a whiz at bias tape necks, pressing cotton tunics and ultimately pinning GARLAND to them…did I mention, “Can we add fake flowers to the tunics?” OF COURSE!
With fittings at night and on weekends, I spent most working hours either shopping for materials, sewing or brainstorming. My “day” doesn’t begin until the kids are on the bus, so imagine my surprise when Sandy from Sew Loved (another friend and collaborator) showed up at the bus stop one morning with her dog’s “cone of shame”. We often have a laugh as we wave the kids off to school, so I looked at her with a question on my face, and she promptly put the cone around her OWN neck. Voila! The structure for the Queen’s stand up collar was born! Not to mention we entertained the next few cars that passed us that day!
I took the female offspring with me to PetSmart after school and after trying on various sizes (to the delight of the staff and customers!), we bought two in various sizes to test on our Teen and Tween Queens.
With such a large cast, I found myself a fixture at the Saturday rehearsals, trying to get this child into a tunic, or to test the shape of the “cone of shame collars”. As a result, I started getting more involved in the decisions about additional color choices, tweaking more costumes, and contributing to a few props. MD had a vision for the King, his son (Prince Dauntless) and the Knight (Harry). She wanted to give a nod to the tunics we already had, but wanted to “bling” them out. I went back to the cotton department to find colors that were vaguely pastel, but had more “pop” for the main characters. We finally settled on hot pink for the King, a rich cornflower blue for the Prince, and coral for the Knight. Then they let me loose in the trim and jewelry departments of JOANNs and Pat Catans! What a blast! The female offspring again got involved and we found big rhinestones, tiny rhinestones set into a plastic mesh (“bling on a string” was our unofficial name for it!), silver mesh, gold rick rack, wired silver ribbon, and satiny blue ribbon. We also unearthed some gold lame from a stash I had, and recruited a very generous mom of a cast member to cut a gold heat transfer vinyl of a lion for the King! It was a blur of trim for about 3 days, leading right up to tech week! I got so into it at one point that I hung up a tunic in Joann’s and left it there for a few minutes!
Tech week turned out to be a great lesson in quick problem solving…we weren’t done yet! As we ran through dress rehearsal, we found dresses to be hemmed, dresses to be altered with pins only (we hoped to reuse certain items in a future production), a hoop skirt that showed a scandalous amount of leg on the Teen Queen, a picture of the Prince without a frame, Queen collars that wanted to pop off and pin a royal shoulder, crowns and tiaras that needed to be sewn onto wigs, and sleeves that were too long. And the amount of safety pins required! I needed stock in Dritz that week!
As the show went on, we avoided most wardrobe malfunctions (one side of a Queen collar popped on stage and one side of a bustle came loose – not bad with a cast of 30 kids!), and it was with a lot of pride and happiness to see the kids shine on stage in a truly pastel rainbow of colors without tripping and falling! I left early during the first performance for a personal matter and was shocked to realize they had tried to call me on stage! A lovely bouquet was dropped off that night, and after the second performance, the stage families presented all of us with a gift bag of goodies. Dark chocolate is TRULY the best gift!
What would I do differently? Well, I have already presented that to BS and MD as they mull over their next production. I see ways to improve the speed of fittings, the questions to ask in advance, and ways to yield the same great results with less work. If you want to contact me about costumes for your next production, click over to Costumes and get in touch with me!
I can’t wait for the next “Would you be interested…?” text to come my way! And let’s call, “Once Upon A Mattress” …