In October, 2003, I was hired by the Metro Cooperative Theatre Society as the costume coordinator on their show, You Say Tomatoes. During that job, I noticed that they were in rehearsals for their big Christmas panto, Cinderella. During a break in rehearsals, I boldly marched up to the director and stage manager and introduced myself, saying I was looking for sewing work. They said they'd have their costume designer call me when Tomatoes had opened. Imagine my surprise when the producer, Ronaye, called me and asked if I would design the whole show!
It was an amazing experience; exhausting, exhilarating, terrifying and wonderful, as well as highly educational. By jumping in the deep end I learned an enormous amount, and am deeply grateful to everyone in the cast and crew for their endless patience with me.
I wasn't terribly worried about the designs, as I've been designing, as my father says, since I could hold a crayon. Construction was another thing. As the original designer had fallen ill, I was a last minute replacement, and had barely a month to build over a hundred new pieces for the show. I had some volunteers, bless them, but as my pattern drafting skills are still somewhat elementary, many of the pieces those lovely women did for me needed to be tweaked afterwards. My fault, not theirs. All in all, it was an intense time for me, with many 12 to 16 hour days, and three 40 hour days during tech week!
One of the challenges I had was getting the costumes done for the chorus. There were so many of them, and so many last minute changes that I didn't have them all done by opening night, although the audience couldn't tell. But I knew, and so did the cast, and it was a great source of stress for me. Still, honestly I can say that, with the time and resources I had, I could not have done better.
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture.
Lexy was our Cinderella; an astonishingly talented sixteen year old who emanated a lovely innocence and sincerity which added a great deal to the role. Unfortunately, I'm not much of a phototographer, and the pictures of Lexy in her Cinders gown didn't turn out at all. However, I took a few extra on the dress form.
This is the dress on the dressform. As Paul, the director, and Ronaye, the producer, stated clearly that they didn't want it to be any specific period, I went with a sort of Disney-esque kind of look; lots of bright, primary colours, which, sadly, are completely washed out in my picture of Lexy wearing it.
The ball gown was a challenge. During the magical tranformation scene, our Cinderella and her dresser had less than a minute and a half to tranform from the Cinders costume to the ball gown, including a very full tiered petticoat, opera gloves, a wrap, a new hair do, and, of course, new shoes.
And here, of course, is a closeup of the crystal slippers.
Kirsten was our Fairy Godmother, and she did a wonderful job, even though being deathly ill for the first week of the run.
Now, just before the end of Act I, The old hag transforms into a glittering, sexy fairy queen! This was another quick change I had to work around; made even harder by the fact that it happens on-stage! The solution was simple, however. Her cloak of rags has a single snap, which allowed her to remove it and reveal her sparkly cabaret fairy queen ensemble. It's hard to tell from these pictures, but her hat, gloves, belt, and the edges of the "petals" from her skirt are covered in blue sequins. The shoes were an amazing find. I found them in a second hand store, already covered in iridescent blue sequins, and in Kirsten's size! Talk about manna from heaven! Anyway, she sparkled from head to toe, and man, she made the best of it!
This was both more fun and more challenging than I expected. I found it unexpectedly difficult to design something -deliberately- ugly. However, the makeup designs and wigs, provided by Rob, were a wonderful source of inspiration, and Jason and David played the roles so wonderfully that it all fell into place quite naturally. I also derived a great deal of inspiration from the fabric that I found. It's apalling how much ugly fabric there is in the world!
David played Valderma, the sort of "alpha-sister". He's a bit bigger than Jason, who played Germalina, physically, and he played Valderma with a wonderful presence that I wanted to encourage with the costumes. His day dress has a vaguely Mexican sort of look to it, with a tiered skirt and ric-rac, and a large ruffle, which emphasized his enormous "buzooms".
Germalina was played by Jason with a rather sulky sort of personality, and I made his costumes somewhat more demure than David's, the way that Pamela Anderson is somewhat bustier than Mae West. I actually got the inspiration for this costume from the 1930's film of "Pride and Predjudice" starring Lawrence Olivier. The sleeves in the film were full and poofy, but Germalina's are a little sad and saggy. Unfortunately, Jason wasn't available for photographs, so I had to take these on my dress form.
In preparation for the ball, the two sisters do a raunchy dance around their boudoir, to The Strip. I was fairly torn about this scene, as I didn't want the actors to have to wear an entire set of lingerie under their costumes, but the quick change requirements for the scene made it neccessary. These outfits not only are silly enough for the boudoir scene, but they also hold the fake busoms in place, and the pantaloons are often visible during prat falls, etc. So I went for gaudy.
The ball was a lot of fun for me, and I was torn between amusement and horror at the wide range of vile fabrics out there. But I was looking for something really special; it had to be bright, hideous, and yet dressy. I really lucked out with Valderma's gown. I found a poisonous lime greem satin with orange and purple masks printed on it. A matching feather boa and some bright orange satin and I was done. I'm proud to say David got an ovation every night just for sashaying out in this monstrosity. I have no compunctions about admitting that I am an evil genius.
But, the piece de resistance was the hat.
Sadly, I could find nothing of equal hideousness for Jason, so had to compromise with some cyan and salmon brocade, and droopy bows. It didn't have quite the same effect, and Jason had to rely on his genius as a physical comedian to get his ovation.
The hat wasn't quite what I had hoped for, either, but it made a good prop.
Buttons is, for all intents and purposes, the star of this Panto. He's a witty rustic character who maintains an abiding crush on Cinders. He interacts the most with the audience, and really drives the story. John Cousins, who played our Buttons, is a young-looking man with a lot of charm and energy, and I wanted to enhance that with his costume, and make him someone the audience responds to. I went with light, pastoral colours and patterns, and, of course, large coloured buttons on everything!
Unfortunately, I didn't get pictures of Buttons' striped nightshirt and hat, and Phanton of the Operamask and cloak, but be assured, they were heavily festooned with buttons.
The Baron is cinderella's father, and Rob did a fantastic job of ageing the 17 year old actor, Spencer, for the role. The Baron is a formerly wealthy man who has fallen on hard times and so is at the whim of his wealthier step daughters. I wanted to create the appearance of an outfit that was once very elegant, but has since become a bit shabby, with missing buttons and patches on the elbows.
We had some amazingly talented young dancers from the RNB Dance studios come and fill in as our villagers, ball attendees, horses, coachmen, palace pages, huntsmen and animals. They had, on average, 4-5 costume changes apiece, and handled them all with great ease and proffessionalism. They were also cute as hell!
These are some shots of the villagers costumes:
The Prince was played by a lovely young woman named Marion, who has the most amazing, high clear soprano. I've learned on this show that the romantic male leads are always played by women, and always in short shorts and fishnet stockings. Quite a shock for me, I can tell you! But Marion did a wonderful job and played her part, well... Charmingly. This is Prince Charming's hunt costume, in which he meets Cinders, and convinces her he is a servant.
Dandini is the Prince's equerry and right hand man, also played by a lovely soprano, named Ali. He dresses as the Prince, so the Prince can have a day of freedom, and pursue Cinderella. The fabric I chose for Dandini's hunt costume was beautiful, but a real pain, as it frayed constantly. I got a serger for Christmas, during the run of the show, and immediately stopped by the theatre on my way home to pick up Ali's doublet, so I could serge the crap out of it before the next performance.
These "critter" costumes were provided for us by the RNB Dance studio. SOOO cute!
Lauren, one of the little girls in the show, played the skeleton in the Dem Bones routine, indicating her early talent as a physical comedienne. The skeleton leotard was provided by RNB, but had to be touched up and repainted to be black on the back, and glow in the dark in the front.
For the small parts, I decided to economise, timewise, by making tabards for the boys. This was done because I had completely run out of time. But, I think they turned out very well.
Jessica played the Majordomo with wonderful comic timing as a straight man. I originally saw her as wearing a powdered wig, but Rob liked her natural hair in a ponytail better, and I must say it looked much better.
And, of course, there is the Major Domo's staff, the pages.
My idea for the ball was to create a riot of colour, in which cinderella, in her cream gown, would shine out like a lit torch. I decided against white for the Prince, and went with royal blue and gold, which I think turned out beautifully.
If the Prince's colours were blue and gold, Dandini's was green. I wanted Dandini to look plausibly elegant enough that the Baron and his stepdaughters would be fooled into think he was the Prince, but still have the Prince outshine him.
I wanted the ball attendees to be bright and colourful, and look very different from their villager costumes, which were colourful, but in muted tones.
All in all, this was an incredible experience. I'm very grateful to the Metro, for this chance to get my hands dirty and really jump into the deep end. They were patient and supportive, and gave me such a wonderful project to design.
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