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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 7.17.08

 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

Traditional Innovator A Q&A with OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch

Organized Insanity OSF’s costume shop

Last Man Standing Othello on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 10

It’s All Just a Case of Mistaken Identity A Comedy of Errors on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 12

Postmodern Angst, Zany Style The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler at the Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 1

Man Alone, and Whiny Coriolanus at the New Theatre through Nov. 2

Bare Bones Our Town on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 11

People in Motion John Sipes moves, but not to the music

 

Organized Insanity

OSF’s costume shop

By Anna Grace

The workroom never rests. Photo: Jenny Graham

The OSF boasts spectacular cos-tumes, so of course they’re produced in a spacious new building with plenty of room for the many employees and volunteers, right? Well, come with EW for the tour …

Not an inch of wall is blank; instead, it’s covered with sketches of costumes, muslin ruffles and runching pinned to cork boards, charts of actors, characters and costumes, timelines, deadlines, Vermeer prints, notes, jokes and last minute directions.

Floor and air space are at a similar premium, with costume pieces hanging everywhere, belt buckles overflowing from gigantic tables, shoes lined up neatly along the floor. Sewing machines hum, irons hiss steam, metal is pounded while designers and directors debate color options. The OSF costume shop is a hive of activity at mid-summer — and this is their slowest time of year.

Presided over by Department Manager Toni Lovaglia and Workroom Supervisor Nancy Zaremski, the art of OSF costume production is executed with precision and efficiency. At full count the shop employs up to 67 people. This is a finely tuned machine, churning out exquisite costumes to the exacting specifications of designers and hard wear of actors. 

This is not a simple matter of grabbing an armful of brocade and creating a costume; each piece travels through the skilled hands of at least five professionals. A designer’s sketch goes to a cutter/draper, who translates the sketch into a pattern, building a mock-up of the costume in muslin. Next comes the first hand, whose entire job is cutting out fabric, perfectly matching plaids and centering floral patterns. Costume designers and design assistants often fly to L.A. or New York to buy the magnificent fabrics used at the festival, so there is little tolerance for mistakes. From the first hand the fabric passes to the stitchers, who sew it all together. At this point the costume, almost finished, might go to a volunteer for final handwork. This year one volunteer contributed more than 56 hours to enhance a pattern on Othello’s robe. That’s love.

And then there are wonderful jobs like costume props. Costume props are anything an actor wears that isn’t clothing: jewelry, hats, belts, gloves, shoes, etc. I met Bonnie Shaffer as she stood at an enormous table, making a belt for a longshoreman from the 1950s. Thick leather she had dyed, cut and finished with a rough, serviceable buckle lay on the table, looking perfect. Belts are just one of the hundreds of skills Shaffer has acquired in her work in costume props. Her most challenging project is currently on display in the windows of the OSF Welcome and Education Center. The huge sausage and sauerkraut hats worn in last year’s On the Razzle had to be light enough to dance in and easy to snap on but big enough to earn the laughs they deserved. Learning new skills and coming up with creative ways to do things, Shaffer says, is her favorite part of work.

Other things to do that don’t include a needle and thread? OSF employs a full-time shopper. The painter/dyers do everything from hand painting beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces, like the hoodies in Coriolanus, to distressing perfectly nice clothing to make it look worn and tattered. If you see an actor exit the stage in a white shirt and come back in the next act spattered with blood, she didn’t get red dye splashed on offstage. That “blood” was carefully painted on an identical white shirt by a painter/dyer, working out of the fume room months in advance.

Several full-time wig makers create the hairstyles of nearly every woman you see on stage at the festival and many of the men — and all the goatees, moustaches and beards necessary for running a professional, world-class Shakespeare festival. My favorite spot was the “pounding room” where workers make any costume that includes pounding: leather jerkins, chainmail, armor, anything with a grommet. Awesome.

Sometimes, the accumulated 70+ years of costumes might be reused, but only in the form of plundering; the sleeves might be stolen from one costume, a dress shortened and recut, a perfectly nice frock coat distressed and redyed. Check out Flossie’s pink flapper dress in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabbler for a great example of reuse: It used to be a floor length gown. And now many of the festival’s costumes are now available for rental (check out www.osfcostumerentals.org).

But just because a costume has been stitched up, dyed, distressed and pounded doesn’t mean it’s ready to go. All work must pass through the final fitting, where the costumers, designer, director and actor all meet to make sure the costume will work. For the most part the costume shop receives nothing but support from the professionals at OSF, but if a fiasco can happen, it has. From actors refusing to wear a costume to actors steadily losing (or gaining) weight throughout a season to needing ice packs sewn into costumes in the heat of summer to unexpected pregnancy, the costumers have seen it all. This year an actress in the lushly costumed Clay Cart broke out in an unidentified, untreatable rash in reaction to the fabric of one of her saris, necessitating the complete rejection of a costume and the creation of a new one. Lovaglia and Zaremski take it all in stride.

For all the brilliant organization of the OSF costume shop, it remains a place of creativity and warmth. The primarily female shop (they currently employ five men) takes tea at 4 pm, celebrates birthdays and new babies, and works to maintain a humane schedule for its employees. Zaremski says, “We all have to work on our own sanity.” There isn’t a nicer place to be a little nuts. 



OSF Costume Facts

So far in the 2008 season, the shop:

used approximately 375 yards of muslin

required 440 feet of spiral & steel bones to complete corsets & boned bodices

used 105 yards of grey wool for garments in Our Town

spent $1,475 of the Coriolanus budget for dye & paint, which included materials for “blood,” distressing and the silk-screen project of citizens’ faces on many garments

created 358 costumes, 69 head-dresses and approximately 60 wigs

purchased 6 lbs. of safety pins, 3 lbs of straight pins, 2 lbs. of silk pins, 2 lbs. of t-pins and 1 lb. of push pins

worked with a budget of $2,118,000 ($1,835,000 for labor; $277,000 for materials; $6,000 for costume travel. This represents 8 percent of the Festival’s overall $26.6 million budget.)



Want to get involved? Donations are welcome, particularly good clothing from previous decades. OSF costume shop volunteers are coordinated by Christine Norton Cotts (christnc at osfashland dot org).

Traditional Innovator A Q&A with OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch

Organized Insanity OSF’s costume shop

Last Man Standing Othello on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 10

It’s All Just a Case of Mistaken Identity A Comedy of Errors on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 12

Postmodern Angst, Zany Style The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler at the Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 1

Man Alone, and Whiny Coriolanus at the New Theatre through Nov. 2

Bare Bones Our Town on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 11

People in Motion John Sipes moves, but not to the music

More reviews can be found in our online archives