Return to the Costume Shop

Return to the Costume Shop

Posted by Jen Jenkins in Costumes, Productions 07 Mar 2012


I’ve been gone from the costume shop working on my Master’s degree and recently had the opportunity to come back and help finish the build for a show. My, oh my! Not only are there some fun new things going on, but the plaid! Used car salesmen beware—you ain’t got nothing on this. As a colleague describes it, the costume designs for the opera The Elixir of Love are a cross between The Music Man and Love Potion Number 9. Can you dig it?


Um, You Want Me To Do What?
Previously when I worked in the shop, I was under the resident tailor, Milivoj Poletan, so it made sense that I pick up where I left off, except I completely forgot how challenging it is! When did vent pockets, roll lines, plastrons, and pressing become so difficult? I have to admit that in the past two and a half years I have done hardly any sewing, just the occasional alteration, but the quality I came back to at the costume shop not only confirmed my love of it but also scared me to death! I finally realized that no matter how much you sew, you just can’t catch up to someone who has been tailoring and stitching for thirty-plus years.

How Do They Keep It All Straight?

The shop has been humming along away in other areas as well. Besides our tailor there is a shop manager, cutter for the women’s costumes—awash with pre-20s prettiness—a lead stitcher for the women’s costumes (Sue Ure-Young, also a gold star has-been-sewing-for-30-plus-years wonder), a milliner/crafts-person, a wardrobe manager, a rentals manager, an assistant rentals manager, and other various and sundry personnel depending on the time of year. But with a show like this, the largest build of the season, how do they keep it all straight?


The costumes are all carefully divvied up on racks under every artist’s name. Each is labeled and individually fitted (albeit the fast way; no mockups for them!) then altered, if necessary, and trucked (literally) over to the Capital Theatre. Meanwhile, interspersed with this massive endeavor, the shop is also shipping out multiple rentals. Each year some 15 to 20 shows are altered and shipped to various opera companies around the nation resulting in the steady use of the opera’s costume collection (all three-stories of it).

The Light At The End of The Tunnel
What is perhaps most exciting about the build is seeing the designer’s sketches come to life. It’s hard for me not to handle every fabric my fellow technicians work on. As each garment (in various stages) gets put on the mannequin and then the artist to be fitted and evaluated, the original vision of the designer becomes clearer. I don’t even know the main character’s name, but I could tell you who he is now just from the neon color in one of his costumes (I can’t say more here; it would spoil the moment). I can also give you a basic character sketch of the various women in the show just from the colors and cuts of their costumes, but why spoil the surprise when you can see it yourself?


The Finish
We’ve got a little ways to go on this show yet. Everyone is pretty madly stitching away between moments of euphoria and reality. But what is most impressive to me is the dedication I see in every member of the shop. Come Fridays we may need to choke the chicken (a stuffed cluck kept nearby specifically for that purpose), and thank goodness Bob the opera dog comes in for an occasional visit to keep us sane, but when it comes to the end of the line, the show will be done—and gorgeous to boot.


Come join us, starting March 10, in watching the story unfold.
The Elixir of Love should be an interesting ride, but please leave your plaids at home. There will be quite enough of that on stage.

Costumes are designed by Alice Bristow

  • Lois Nielsen March 12, 2012 at 9:27 pm / Reply

    Hello! I loved reading about the costumes back stage. I would LOVE LOVE to come and watch and even be a gopher. I am a high school Family and Consumer Science teacher, specifically clothing and foods. Do you ever need sewers to help? Please let me know! 801.414.0025

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