I recently got the opportunity to do costumes for Man of la Mancha. A play about Don Quixote’s memory and imprisonment done as a musical. The majority of costumers when commissioned to do a play, they look first to what is currently in stock. I looked to see what A.L.T.A theatre group had in stores and I was shocked. Although they are small I expected them to have more costumes than what I had found. They had some costumes but none of them were 1600 Spain. But that was okay because I am a sewer and it just so happened, I also had the period patterns which fit the director’s visions. Oh happy day!
I could not sew them right away, although I was pretty sure that what I owned (the patterns or costume pieces I had in stock would fit into her visions. She had a lot on her mind– the biggest play they had ever put on and a musical at that. So I could understand that blocking 15 people in a small church setting would be a slight problem and be more important than what they would be wearing so I was put on the back burner for a while.
When she finally decided what she wanted in the form of costumes, I sat down with her and the props person and we discussed what I could and could not do. It turned out to be more of the can do than the not which was so cool. The one thing that set me back besides not being able to start right away was that when I have a project especially sewing or embroidery it is hard for me to tell how long it will take me to complete it. Each sewing item is different even if the pattern and material are the same each time. Each piece seems to sew differently even when you go through the same motions. It is very hard to explain. It’s like every time you try to duplicate a handmade item, there is always something slightly different about it, making it more unique.
I ended up sewing about 30 costumes by myself in about two months of 8-12 hour days. When I signed on , I only expected 15 costumes but each person had to do several roles without totally discarding the original costume which consisted of skirt and blouse or pants and shirt. I do have to say that I learned a lot from this experience including finding a material that really looks good in a pirate type shirt. (tea dyed muslin which is also extremely soft to the touch) It would have been hard having a sewing helper because a lot of the costumes were made up on the fly as I was sewing them together. A few of them were without a pattern.
I also learned that people who do costumes ruin the experience by staying for rehearsals and by seeing what the actors/actresses do with the costumes that they may or may not end up wearing. So if you ever decide to do this– don’t watch the play. Especially if you make the costumes from scratch like I did because if they end up not wearing what you worked your butt off on– it will piss you off and ruin it for you.
I am grateful for the opportunity however and am ready for the next project whatever that might be.