Today I had the opportunity to participate in an interactive workshop at Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Wardrobe Department. As a drama enthusiast I’ve seen, and even worn, many magnificent costumes but I’ve never seen them in the making. At Theatre Royal Plymouth the dedicated wardrobe team design and make costumes for the stage, from small scale productions to specifically requested items for famous shows.
Today we were greeted by Delia, who told us all about her job. Each costume is designed, brought to life, fitted to the performer, and finalised within the department. They often work with the theatre’s own Young Company and People’s Company and are currently designing for Blue Road. Budgets start around £500 for a small show but this can range to £250,000 or more! It is clear that lots of time and hard work goes into each production off stage as well as on stage. After I looked around excitedly at all the gorgeous costumes on display and marvelled at the facts and figures, Delia started our tour of the workshop space.
A Walk Around the Wardrobe
As we walked around we could see the different areas needed to store costumes, such as the wardrobe pans that take them on tour and the mannequins used for designing. We also got to see the huge dye vats and spray booths that change the plainest of shirts into a dip dyed number suitable for the disco or a blood stained horror for the meanest of villains. All of the stations can be used to create original designs and patterns that the team incorporate into their costumes. We got a quick peek at the wigs and beards which are all handmade. All the hairs are sewn into a mesh and they even sew them individually towards the front to make them look real!
Then we made our way to my favourite part of the tour – the costume store. A room full of costumes doesn’t sound too exciting but when you step inside you will be amazed. From floor to ceiling, each wall is lined with exquisite costumes and accessories from previous shows. Boxes are full of bows and braces and hangers carry period pieces, timeless classics and versatile outfits. The store room is often raided when a production is announced, ensuring that costumes are recycled and reused where possible so nothing goes to waste. They even rents their costumes to local theatre groups and schools which is wonderful idea. I left the costume store gazing lovingly at huge collections of shoes I’d love to get my hands on. I wonder if they’d lend me a fur coat to glide elegantly through my house?
Special Effects – A Hands on Look
They say a magician never tells their secret and the same if often true of an artist but we were lucky to see some of Delia’s work as she showcased special effects and their uses in the design process. In the wardrobe department they use every material they can get their hands on, from glue, stencils, and even rabbit food to get the desired texture and look. I was amazed at the versatility of objects and what they could become. Most shows require a quick turnaround, meaning they need their costumes made pretty quickly. When some of the most simple looking effects, such as a paint splattered apron, can take several days to perfect, it is clear how dedicated the team are. Every small detail is discussed in depth to ensure that every production is perfect. They even consider what colour should be used to create a mud stained costume, considering how long it has been stained, how the character acquired the stain, and even how geographical location changed the natural colour of mud.
Next, we got a chance to get artistic ourselves and here’s where the workshop got really fun. Delia demonstrated fake embroidery, made easily from organza, lavish wallpaper prints to trace, and brightly coloured paint. This effect is often used to decorate period costumes or leave a sparkly finish on a princess dress. With make-shift piping bags the bloggers were let loose to create their own fake embroidery designs. This was a whole lot of fun and we laughed a lot about our struggles, punctuated by large silences as we concentrated very hard to make a work of art. Despite my lack of artistic talent, I had a huge amount of fun and even got to take my design home. I have a new found respect for the wardrobe department who work hard to make every show extra special.
This was a really wonderful morning that gave a great insight into the behind the scenes action at Theatre Royal Plymouth. The walls were covered in photos of numerous productions that showed just how hard the wardrobe department worked. Thanks to Theatre Royal Plymouth for another wonderful blogging event.