Kim Martin-Cotten (Assistant AD) sat down with Gayla Voss (Costume Shop Manager), Jenny Green (Assistant Costume Shop Manager) and Michele Richmond (Head Cutter) to talk about building the costumes for KCRep’s current production “Pride and Prejudice.”
How many costumes did you build for this show ?
Let’s see… 18 period dresses and 9 suits. Plus hats and other accessories.
That’s a lot! And this designer, Melissa Torchia, has she been here before?
She did “Anne Frank,” “The Fantasticks” and “The Invisible Hand,” so she’s been with us for 3 other shows.
So it’s good that you knew her and understood her way of working before diving into the enormous build for this show.
It was. She does not live in Kansas City so when she wasn’t able to be here for fittings we did FaceTime. That way she could see what we were doing and we could talk about adjustments.
I think devices must help a lot these days, especially when you have designers that are out of town.
Yes. She lives in Ashland, Oregon which is not the easiest place to get in and out of…especially this last winter. And she has a new baby!
So tell me about her costume design concept for this production of Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; it’s classic lines with a contemporary influence?
Melissa and Marissa (Wolf, the director) had a conversation about the time and place for the costumes. So, yes, the shapes are traditional lines of Jane Austen’s England, but the fabrics are modern so the colors and textures are very very contemporary. You never would’ve found a shiny metallic suit in that period. I’m sure there has never been, nor will there ever be, another coat of that style made in that fabric.
Yes, it looks Disco and Regency period all at once!
You wouldn’t have a plaid tail coat for Mr Bennett, but that’s what is wonderful. It had the suggestion of then and now and the effect is a balance that is exciting. We used a sheer fabric for Lydia’s ball gown with such a bold print, plus we added fuchsia flowers to it. The flowers are over the top layer to give it texture. We focused on blending the idea of yesterday with today, and matching it all to the costume supporting the essence of the character.
I’m wondering if you could talk about what it is to find the right fabrics because I know that’s a whole adventure of its own.
There used to be so many fabric stores in town with great stuff! I remember that wonderful store on The Plaza and another at Crowne Center, you could find anything right here. They literally have all closed. Now we only have one good source, Joann Fabrics, but we need more.
So you have to go to different cities to shop for fabric?
We took a trip in the middle of winter to Minneapolis. It was a Wednesday in January. We started by swatching all these fabrics, cutting little pieces off of the bolts, and then overnighted them to Oregon (about 150 or 200 swatches of fabric) as options to Melissa that Thursday. She went through it on Friday, and then on Friday night she sent back all of the fabric that she liked. Then Saturday we played the game of “let’s find those fabrics all over again,” because it is a huge warehouse with bolts of fabric from floor to ceiling – literally rolls and rolls of fabric!
It sounds like it was an exciting treasure hunt.
We found it all, shopped on Saturday, and drove it all back to Kansas City in a packed car on Sunday!
So it’s a cast of eight, and how many characters ?
12 characters. several of the girls have three dresses, most of the men have 2 suits.
How many people does it take to build a show like this?
There are seven of us full time in the shop, and we hired two extra stitchers to help with the build, and then we added a third one for a few days. Oh, and a student intern to help as well. Even so…that still isn’t quite enough. Everyone was working really long hours.
The hardest show we ever built was “Sunday in the Park with George,” because we really had to build it twice. The show started out all in cream fabrics and then changed color as if George Seurat was painting it. It’s not a show that is always done that way, that’s just how it was designed for our production. It was wonderful.
I bet it was gorgeous, but I imagine you needed a vacation after you were done.
How many dressers did you have to have? Did the actors become helpers in all the fast costume changes?
There is only the wardrobe manager, one dresser, and a wig person. I think all of the crew and actors backstage are helping with some of the small things, but all the big changes are assigned to the one show dresser .
Then the rest is magic! I mean it’s truly amazing how many things have to be changed, both with wigs and costumes in this show, at high speed without a lot of help. That’s astonishing that it is essentially the responsibility of 2 people!
Did you bring in someone in to deal with wigs on “Pride and Prejudice?” There seem to be a lot of them.
A lot! Yes we had a guest wig designer, Alison Hanks. As it turned out, I (Gayla) came up with a way of doing “wigs hats” on a production of Irma Vep with lots of quick changes that was helpful – so they can go on and off really fast. It is a felt hat base with metal headbands sewn to it and the wig sewn to it as well so it can stick on and stay on no matter what you do. It was a bit of a surprise to us how wildly active the actors are in this show are. Everyone was throwing the wigs on and off stage, so finally an Elmers glue potion was sprayed all over the outside of the hair because we had to have wigs that will never never fall apart!
And then there were hats and there was that neck piece for the one character that has a neck problem.
It is actually a bonnet with a neck piece for that. The bonnet was pulled but redecorated and the neck piece was built and added. Our milliner Meghan built all of that and many others. And then there’s Lady Catherine de Burgh’s hat…we call that hat the other character in the show.
Talk about a character walking onto the stage and understanding exactly who they are immediately.
That’s what I always say to my students; a costume should tell you everything that you’re supposed to know about that character without them ever saying a word.
This show’s costume design does that beautifully and I applaud the extraordinary work that was done to make this enormous build happen!
Was there anything else you want to share about the magic of this show that has actors playing so many different characters?
Yes, we designed what we called the Franken-suit. It was made from pieces that were connected to make it look like someone was wearing a full suit. It was a piece of this and a piece of that. The Frankensuit has a shirt, tie, vest and coat all sewn together so it can be put on as one piece.
I mean…Franken-suit…I can imagine! If only we could add a video!