Costuming sometimes has to come at the last minute, especially at a small school where you are the director, choreographer, English teacher, academic coordinator, and costumer all at the same time. I have been guilty in the past of throwing costumes together the week before district competition and just adding details as we advanced. But I've been fortunate enough lately to have two costuming classes built into my teaching schedule.
One is more of a creative, inspirational, visionary class with mostly die-hard theatre kids, and the other is more of a hands-on class made up of mostly FCCLA kids that I team-teach with our home economics teacher. In this class she can teach the kids about the sewing machine and use costumes designs I've created to give her students hands-on sewing experience.
It took years to get to this schedule in my district. We are a small 3A district, and have minimal resources for theatre. But, when we discovered that the FCCLA department teaches classes called Fashion Merchandising, Fashion Design, Apparel, etc. I jumped on this. I decided that I could join with that teacher and build on both of our programs to produce great costumes for us and at the same time add another dimension to her classes too.
In my more visionary class, we spend a great deal of time on creativity, inspiration, creating a vision board for the show, etc. We do creative projects, adult coloring books, Pinterest boards, listen to music, watch movies from the time period, television programs from that era and more to find our vision for the show. Need some help finding inspiration? We wrote all about how we find the best costuming inspiration here.
Once we come up with a vision, we spend a lot of time going through everything we have in the costume room. We look at each dress, suit, etc. and determine whether or not it shows the characteristics of the time period we are working on, whether we can alter it to become time period appropriate, or whether we will have to search elsewhere. Once you have taught them the main characteristics of the time period, this is such a good hands-on way for them to prove to you that they understand those things.
Once we have exhausted all the possibilities of our costume room, we know we now have to create the costumes ourselves. So we turn to our sketches, Pinterest boards, etc. of what we need. We then present them to the FCCLA costuming class for help with altering, sewing, and creating new pieces.
Now, this class will spend some time with their teacher discussing patterns, sewing machines and alterations. This class will keep measurement charts of all of the actors so they can refer to them as they create. I will send kids into that class as needed for fittings throughout the season.
This has been the most efficient way to create costumes for a show that I have ever had. I found that a month before opening night we had all costumes hanging on a rack and ready to go. It is such a fabulous feeling to not rush around at the last minute. With this system we have now, keeping up with the costuming before and during a production is so easy. After each performance, the actors will report to me or the backstage costume manager about things like hems that have come out, broken zippers, torn fabric, dangling strings and any other mending situations. At that point, we have a mending rack that we hang those things on with a note attached to each one about the help it needs. They are then sent to the FCCLA sewing classroom for them to fix. They are normally quick fixes, so we usually have those things back the next day. These two classes work in conjunction throughout the run of the show and it works beautifully!
How do you organize your costuming? We'd love to hear your tips on clothing your show! Tweet us on Twitter to let us know your theatre hacks!