Rules For a Happy Costume Manager

Recently, my director and I sat down to write up some rules for our young thespians.  They are often so caught up in the excitement of the performance that they forget about caring for the props and costumes.  Here are the rules that we have drafted (but not yet put into play):

Costume Rules

As we start the new theater season, we will have new rules for the handling of costumes.

  • All actors must have bin that can hold their costumes, clothing, make-up, etc. This needs to have your name on it.  It needs to be easily accessible and organized so that you can get what you need when you need it.  We recommend hard plastic bins with lids.  You may also consider adding smaller bins or bags to keep it organized: on for makeup, hair accessories, street clothes, etc.  If you do not have a bin, you may borrow one from the costume manager; there will be a $5 rental fee charged to your account.
  • Costumes will be checked out and checked in. Too many pieces go missing after productions-they are often just thrown on the floor.  See Miss Tori to check out and check in the costumes.  Your costume will not be considered checked in unless all the pieces are there.
  • If you need help pinning your costume to fit better, please do this prior to 30 minutes before curtain. Find an adult to help you if you need assistance.
  • If you are not wearing it, keep it in the bin. You may have multiple costumes assigned to you at the beginning of the show.  Keep those you are not currently using, along with your street clothes, in your bin.  This will prevent it from getting lost or someone else accidentally grabbing the wrong shirt/pants/dress.  Many costumes look similar and only differ in size.  If all the black pirate pants are on the floor or table, how are you to know which one is yours?  You will waste precious time looking for your costume piece and may not find it in time.  Please also keep your personal clothing in the bin so you can easily find the clothes after the show.
  • All actors must have makeup, hair combs/brushes, bobby pins and elastic bands if needed for long hair, baby wipes or makeup remover, safety pins and appropriate ‘character’ shoes. Actors also need a large button-up shirt to put over their costumes between or before shows.  If your character requires false eyelashes, you must provide your own false eyelashes.  Please bring large and medium safety pins to pin your costume when needed.  It is also good to have safety pins in case of emergency: a bow falls off, a seam tears, the zipper breaks.
  • If wearing a wig and you have long hair, it must be in a low bun, milkmaid braids, ‘Heidi’ braids or Swedish braids. You must also have a bald cap.
  • All actors must wear covering clothing that will not been seen under costumes. Generally, for girls this is a leotard with either tights or shorts.  For boys, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt or tank top is preferred.  If the articles of clothing are not skin tone, pay attention to what can be worn under the costume.  If you have a lightweight white costume, do not wear a black shirt or dark purple shorts.  Your clothing should either be skin tone, white or black depending on what will work with your costume.  You need to wear clothing that will allow for quick changes during productions.  Shoes must be appropriate for the costume; for most, character shoes work.
  • You may need to purchase items for your character’s costume. Usually these are small items such as socks or gloves.  You will be notified well in advanced.  These items need to be purchased before the dress rehearsals.
  • Pay attention to hygiene. Even if you do not normally wear deodorant, wear it before all dress rehearsals and performances.  Brush your teeth-you will be meeting with your audience after wards.
  • Do not put your costume on any earlier than two hours before the show. If there are multiple shows that day and you are wearing the same costumes, take them off between the shows and put them in your bin.  Between shows, we usually eat or snack and you do not want to mess up the costume.  If you must have a snack or drink (other than water), cover the costume with the large button-up shirt.  You must provide the large button-up shirt; keep it in your bin.
  • Food is never allowed on stage, back stage or in the green room. Only water is allowed and it must be in a container that prevents spills, not an open cup.  Red or purple drinks are strongly discouraged during dress rehearsals or shows due to their amazing ability to stain anything on contact.  Just leave them at home.  Foods that are sticky are also discouraged.  This includes candy, honey, caramel, oranges, etc.
  • Be courteous. If someone can’t find something, needs help with their hair, needs a zipper pulled, help out.  If you need help, don’t panic.  There are usually about 40 kids and at least 10 adults who can help.
  • If there is a problem with your costume, ask Miss Tori for help. Do not wait until 5 minutes before you need to go on the stage to discover there is a problem.  You should be wearing your costume no later than 30 minutes before curtain.  That leaves plenty of time to fix any emergencies.
  • Go to the bathroom before getting into your costume. Even if you think you don’t have to go-you do.  Just trust me on this one.

Finally….these costumes consist of many hours of planning, designing, and sewing.  Many of them are handmade, sewn in by volunteers during free time after working a “regular” job.  Please take care of them.

 

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Hats!

I was involved with theater in high school.  After both the director and I figured out that I was no actress, I volunteered to help with costumes.  Most of my friends were involved with the production of Winnie the Pooh, so it was a way to hang out with my friends.  I now think that the director must have sheltered me from the chaos that is theater.  I don’t remember many frantic moments.

TinyTopHat

Miniature top hat

Before I connected with Mosaic Children’s Theater, I was trying to decide what crafting to do.  Etsy was still a new thing and I briefly toyed with the idea of making dolls and doll clothes and selling them on Etsy.  A hobby that pays for itself!  My husband firmly put his foot down against the idea of making dolls.  Having never seen the multiple Chucky movies, I did not understand his objection.

So I moved onto the backup plan: hats.  I must admit, I really don’t look very good in hats.  Which means I need to make hats for other people.

Hats are a great medium for creativity.  They appeal to my practical side because they are not just ornamental.  The right hat can change the look and feel of a whole outfit.  Picture a man wearing a plain black suit.  Now, add a cowboy hat.  Congratulations, you have created a Wild West costume.  Take away the cowboy hat and add a felted derby; you have moved from western America to downtown London, 1880.  Remove the derby, add wide brim Amish hat and you have created another costume.  And only the hats have changed.

The first hat challenge I have experienced with Mosaic Children’s Theater was our production of Babes in Toyland.  We needed a Victorian top hat.  And not just any top hat – we needed a really tall top hat.  After scanning videos and pictures of Buster Poindexter, I did the math: the hat was over 13 inches tall.

A standard felted top hat can cost between $50-80.  I could not find an extra tall top hat.  Fortunately, I had some experience with knitting top hats.  I created a few steampunk costumes for my family, which included two small top hats.  They were created using a pattern by designer Dark Twist.  The pattern called for knitting the base hat and then felting it.  I still have my small black top hat; we used it in Orphan Train.

There are many top hat patterns out there.  But I knew that just knitting and felting a top hat would not work.  The hat was too tall and would need support for the height.  I needed to create a process.

First I found a good yarn that would felt and created some swatches.  This is a very important step.  I made note of the yarn, row count, stitch count and measurements of the swatch.  I then threw the swatches in the wash with some whites washed in very hot water.  The hot water and agitation felted the swatches, so I took a measurement of the end results.  I now knew how much the yarn would shrink once I felted the hat.

Hat on Form

Tall top hat, blocking

I finished knitting the hat, felted it, started the blocking and continued research.  I happen to have a large cylinder that in a previous life held a roll of paper.  It was perfect for blocking the very tall hat.  You can see the hat still blocking in the image to the left.

The problem with felting hats is that is does not produce a smooth fabric like the old-fashioned methods.  Felted hats were made with animal fibers that were felted into a fabric first and then shaped into a hat using hat forms, lots of pulling and steaming.  I was using the reverse method: creating the shape first and then the felting fabric.  And then I found the solution posted by blogger PieKnit: shave the hat, using cheap men’s razors.  Shaving the fabric removes the small nubs of felted yarn or any stray lint and makes the fabric smooth.  Perfect! No stray fibers to catch the light on stage.

So, my hat was knitted, felted and shaved. Now I just needed a way to support the height of the hat.  Back to research.

Pirate hat

Pirate hat, blocking

I found a fellow steampunker, new knitter and blogger Felix Thadeus Cucumber.  He posted his hat design on his blog.  But, more importantly, he posted a process that stiffened the felted fabric and allowed the hat to keep its shape.  I gathered my supplies: a spray bottle, denatured alcohol and clear shellac.  All of these were purchased at my local hardware store.  (I am always surprised at the fact that I find more theater supplies for costuming at the hardware store than the craft store.)  In the spray bottle, I created a mixture of 2 parts denatured alcohol and one part shellac.  While still on the hat block, I used a fine mist spray to spray the outside of the hat: brim, sides and top.  The fumes of the spray are flammable and should not be breathed, so I accomplished sprayed the hat on the back patio, in plenty of open air.  I left it to dry a few hours and repeated the process twice more.  When I removed the hat from the hat form, it stood up tall and straight.  Just make sure not to spray the bottom of the brim or the inside of the hat or anywhere the hat might touch the skin.  While it is a great hat stiffener, the mixture does make the fabric a little rough and would be uncomfortable.

Smee hat

Smee hat

This process, with or without the stiffening mixture, can be used for any non-woven hat style.  I have used it for tall top hats, regular top hats, miniature top hats, pirate hats, and bowlers.  Don’t forget that regularly knitted hats can also be used.  Our Peter Pan production uses a knitted hat, unfelted, for the character of Smee.  I used a night-cap pattern, slightly modified.  You can also felt crochet hats, but as I don’t crochet I have little experience with felting crochet hats.

There are plenty of free or inexpensive knitted and crochet hat patterns.  If you knit (or crochet) or have a parent volunteer that does, here’s how to create great hats on a limited budget.  There are plenty of hat patterns on Ravelry, Knitty and other pattern sites.

Some links to get you started:

https://ageofsteam.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/a-brief-history-of-the-top-hat/

http://www.pieknits.com/blogmt/2009/10/mini_mini_top_hat.html

http://www.ravelry.com/designers/lara-breese

http://www.thesteampunkempire.com/forum/topics/my-knitted-wool-top-hat

https://sites.google.com/site/crazyknittinglady/nightcap

http://www.knitty.com/archiveHEADS.php

http://knitlikeapirate.com/projects/index.shtml