Costuming for the Home and Community Options (HCO) musical is an enormous undertaking, especially for this year’s recent show, My Fair Lady.
HCO’s inventory of costumes are stored in the HCO Costume Center, which is located in the basement of Coldwell-Banker in downtown Winona. This space was donated for use by the building’s owners. Some of the costumes that HCO has were donated by the Save Our Fine Arts (SOFA) committee when they disbanded at Winona Senior High School, and Bruce and Carol Ramsdell also personally donated some costumes from their private collection. The inventory has grown over the years with HCO’s own creations.
Well before the cast is chosen in the spring, lead costumer and HCO Division Director, Mary Jansen, is organizing the work area and pulling potential costumes that she thinks will work for HCO’s production. Joining Mary on the costume team for this year’s show were nine other passionate, dynamic ladies: Margaret Cassidy, Sydney Smith, Lynda Tillman, Edie Davis, Barb Burchill, Deb Sauer, Joan McGill and HCO Directors Paula Krage and Kathy Murck. “The atmosphere is full of positive energy! Many jokes, singing and dancing and compliments are exchanged,” Mary shares. “It is important that we have fun with each other as well as with the cast members coming in to be fitted.” The costumers enjoy the opportunity to be creative and develop ensembles that each cast member will love to wear.
Once the play is cast, the costumers must determine how many costumes each cast member must be fitted for. This year, My Fair Lady called for a wide variety of costumes, from formal gowns and tuxes for the Ascot Gavotte, to the street clothes of the cockney men and women in other numbers. With 88 cast members each needing at least two costumes, Mary estimates that there are at least 185 costumes that were used for the show.
For about a month, fittings were held every Wednesday and Thursday night, each of which were attended by varying members of the costume crew. Once potential items are pulled and cast members arrived to try things on, necessary alterations (letting things in or taking them out, hemming, adding trim, etc.) were noted on forms to be used later when the hands-on work commenced by the volunteers, sewing either at the center or from their homes. When making changes, costumers are careful to think of future uses for each piece they work on so that alterations that are made are able to be undone whenever possible.
There are often pieces of costumes that are needed that are not in HCO’s collection, which then need to be found. Costumers prowl used clothing stores and consignment shops, and even then, they sometimes have to order things, like top hats and parasols. This year, Margaret Cassidy and Edie Davis found things like ribbons, feathers, and beading to decorate the women’s fancy Ascot hats, which were all made in one Saturday morning with six people working on them. If, after searching the costume collection, the shops, and the internet, the right thing can’t be found, these talented women must modify existing pieces by hand or make pieces from scratch, purchasing the patterns they need or pulling from their own personal inventory. “Costuming is a behind-the -scenes, detailed job. It is not just the main costume the person is wearing, but down to the bobby pin that is holding the hat on! It is the little things that bring the added touches to the costume that count too and can be just as challenging as the costume itself,” Mary shares.
The Saturday before dress rehearsals begin, the Costume Parade is held. Mary sits in the audience with Artistic Director, Mark Roeckers, to watch each individual actor come on stage. Notes are taken on what changes need to be made to each costume. They then call the big production numbers onstage to be able to see the whole picture. During dress rehearsals, if a costume doesn’t work in action, further changes can be made. In fact, volunteers are often fixing, making, or modifying pieces throughout the run of the show.
The costumers favorite part of the job is building relationships with cast members and seeing their reactions to the costumes that were developed for them. “Costuming is fun because you get to know each person and assist them in getting in character to play their part the best they can. When costuming, you get to know them personally as you fit them, talk about their role, and other aspects of their lives. While you have the opportunity to work one-to-one with each cast member, seeing them all together performing in costume makes it real.”
Note: Before the run of the show had even begun, over 500 hours of volunteering was put in by the team of costumers. Our sincere thanks to all of them for all their hard work and dedication!
Want to get involved?
Volunteers do not need to sew to be a costumer – they can be crafty, can assist with ironing, write down alterations needed during fittings, assist in bagging costumes for taking them to the theatre, or finding items needed to complete the costumes. If you are wondering if costuming (or a different role) is the right fit for you, contact Lynette Johnson, Events Coordinator, at LynetteJ@hco.org!