The “Bustle” Period. Inside “A Doll’s House” with Costumer Sarah Oliver The “Bustle” Period. Inside “A Doll’s House” with Costumer Sarah Oliver
In this "Inside" series, costumer Sarah Oliver discusses the process for designing Kansas City Actor's Theatre's production of "A Doll's House." The “Bustle” Period. Inside “A Doll’s House” with Costumer Sarah Oliver

Pictured: Fabric for “A Doll’s House.” Photo courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre.

Our “Inside” series takes you behind the scenes of productions through blog posts written by the artists in the trenches. To read past “Inside” pieces, clickhere.

By Jack Kneessy

Sarah Oliver has designed costumes for countless shows in the Kansas City Area for companies like Kansas City Actors Theatre, the New Theatre, and (one more). She has designed costumes for productions nationally and internationally. She is now the costume designer for Kansas City Actors Theatre’s upcoming production of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” which has been adapted and will be directed by Darren Sextro. She discusses the significance of this play, getting to continue the story by designing “A Doll’s House, Part 2” for the Unicorn in October, and the process of costume design.

When did you first come across the world of “A Doll’s House”?

I actually first saw “A Doll’s House, Part 2” on Broadway with my daughter and I thought it was intriguing how it was a stand-alone play. But I of course wanted the context of “A Doll’s House” which I hadn’t read in years, so I went back and read the play and really enjoyed it and felt it was a perfect show for KCAT’s mission.

How is A Doll’s House different from other productions you have designed?

“A Doll’s House” is set in one of the best, most interesting time periods for costume designers… It’s bustle period! Fashion changed very quickly between 1875 and 1895, which was unusual for the time, so it is really amazing to work on “A Doll’s House” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2” which are bookended together in two versions of the bustle period.

Fabric for “A Doll’s House.” Photo courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre.

You have designed many shows. What is the costuming process like?

I first read the play, talk with the director, and achieve a vision and some insight. Next is lots and lots of research. I research the time period, the date, the clothing, and everything the playwright has written. After I present my ideas to the director, I start building. There are fittings and corset work to get the under-structure right in order to re-shape the actor’s bodies for the time period.

And your favorite part of the costume design process?

I love tech! You work so hard and then it magically starts to come together; you are no longer just working on one dress at a time. It’s both lovely and a little scary to watch it all come together under lights and for an audience.

Fabric for “A Doll’s House.” Photo courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre.

What do you see as the contribution of the costuming to theatre?

When the curtain comes up, the most obvious indicator of the time period is the costumes and makeup, so it’s my job to transport the audience into that time period. My only goal is to make sure the actor is becoming the complete character they need to become to be a part of the play. And each article of clothing has a story; we create stories about where a character got a particular garment. What dress would this character gravitate towards? What makes the character say “yes to the dress”?

How will costuming for “A Doll’s House,” be different from “A Doll’s House, Part 2”?

It’s been a pleasure because Darren Sextro is the director for both. I’m influenced by how much he has adapted the script for our cast. Having worked with some of these actors several times you know their bodies and what looks good on them. With “A Doll’s House,” the joy is being able to create this history and move it forward with “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” We’re going to try to have some of the trim and fabrics make a guest appearance!

Sarah Oliver is both a member of the Board of Directors and the Core Artistic Committee for Kansas City Actors Theatre. She currently teaches costume technology for the MFA Costume Design and Technology program at UMKC.

“A Doll’s House” runs August 7 through 25, 2019 at the City Stage Theatre in Union Station. For tickets and more information, visit or contact the Central Ticket Office at (816) 235-6222.

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