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Costuming at Bedlam Theatre

At Bedlam Theatre, costuming mostly consists of a Stage Manager rummaging through the Costume Cupboard, hoping they can find the one object of clothing that the actor doesn't have in his or her personal wardrobe. Often, this cannot be found as the usual state of the costume cupboard is "complete disarray".

When a costume cannot be found in the cupboard or in someone's wardrobe, a Stage Manager may next look to spend part of their budget at a charity shop or costume shop. Seemingly as a last resort, costumes are sewn. EUTC has a new sewing machine hidden somewhere within Bedlam's walls that can be used for such but how much action it has seen is anyone's guess (it's certainly not much as it's still a new machine.

The Glory of Costuming

The wonderful thing about theatre is creating a character. The actor must act the part but if he or she is dressed incorrectly, it would be unconvincing. While the actors are learning their lines and their movements, a costumer (or even a team of costumers for a large production) begins the task of assembling a wardrobe. It is the costumer who works with the rest of the production team to decide what sort of thing each character would wear.

At Bedlam Theatre, there’s the Costume Cupboard which doubles as wardrobe department and props storage. There are costumes enough in the costume cupboard to clothe most shows though it would be unfair to say that there are costumes enough for all shows – some shows require costumes that are vastly different than what the costume cupboard can allow for.

The first trick of costuming is trying to make do with what is readily available.

Is there a wedding? Well it’s time to break out the wedding dress and the jacket with tails. There’s a beggar? Well grab that tattered jumper and we can put the old patched army coat over it. Does someone get shot? There’s a shirt with fake-blood that might do the trick. Turn a boy into a country girl? Well, there’s a pigtail wig and a red-and-white checked dress and a hand-basket! There’s really no end to the way one can combine the different elements in an outfit to create something wholly new for a character without needing to spend money on creating new costumes from scratch.

As well, there’s the idea that “we’re aiming for the idea, not exacts”. There’s a large section in Bedlam’s Costume Cupboard for ‘Period Costumes’ which basically covers everything from the middle and early-modern ages. Most punters won’t be coming to the play to see if the period costume is from the Elizabethan age or the Edwardian age, they only want to be convinced that the era is “a long time ago but not so long ago”. Additionally, doctors don’t need to wear scrub trousers, as long as they have a lab coat and a stethoscope, monsters wear masks and tattered clothes, and Mary Poppins wears a long jumper and has a parasol.

If what you seek cannot be found, it is time to create it.

Not just a statement about life, when you can’t find something you’re looking for, you have the chance to create something brand new. Whether it’s because your cast of 20 all needs to be wearing the same thing and you just can’t find that many matching jumpers, your princess needs to have a 5meter train on her dress, or you need to dress someone up like a frog, creating needs to take place.

At this point, it’s likely wisest to ask around for ideas of how to go about your project if you find yourself at a loss. The frog costume, maybe you’re happy enough putting the actor in all green and making a mask out of papier mache or for your princess’ train, attaching a long piece of fabric to an already long dress. Perhaps, though, you want to sew a certain pair of trousers for your frog so it looks like he’s got actual frog legs. Assess your time and your budget – do you have enough of both to get it done? If you do, then you get to work trying to figure out what sort of pattern you’d need to make a person’s leg look like a frog leg while still allowing the actor enough movement that the seams don’t get torn during an ungraceful leap. Perhaps making trousers with poofy thighs and tight ankles would do it? Draw it up, ask around, is there a better idea? When you think you’ve got it, look around for some fabric that might do and if there’s none then head down to the fabric store to get some! Then cut, sew, create. If you need to create multiple copies of the same costume, try to get a line going where one person cuts out pieces of fabric while another pins and still another sews them together on the sewing machine, to maximize productivity in the limited amount of time one has before the show goes up.

There’s no end to the characters you can create with costume if you’ve the resources of budget, time, and creativity. So go forth and clothe the actors!