labricoleuse: (silk painting)
First, some new-news:

There's a great story in Sunday's News & Observer on the progress out at The Lost Colony on rebuilding their costume shop, which was lost to a tragic fire on September 11th of this year. I particularly liked reading about how folks at HBO and in the NC film industry have pitched in with donating production surplus on period projects that have wrapped.

And! It occurred to me that it might be useful to share some of the spreadsheet and form templates i use for labor tracking in my subdepartment with you guys. So, i've created an account on (a free hosting service) with some of my frequently-used templates. Here are the first three i've uploaded for open-source sharing.

1.) Download mixing ticket.doc
This is my dye project record form (Word document filetype). Anyone who dyes anything for a mainstage show (me or one of my assistants) fills out this form, attaches swatches, and puts it into the master notebook (or "Crafts Bible"). That way if anyone else needs to reference what was done and how, it's right there on record. It is based on a form used by the Utah Shakespearean Festival in their dyeshop; they have some different categories at the top of theirs for tracking projects (since they have six shows in their shop simultaneously, thus making it more difficult to track what fabric goes to what draper for what show by what deadline). You can add or eliminate whatever entries you need, or devise your own completely different template.

2.) Download hat and mask measurements.xls
This is an Excel spreadsheet i generated for a comprehensive measurement sheet covering both hat-related measurements and facial-feature measurements. This way i was able to make matrices without face casts for masks *&* hat mockups from one measurement sheet.

3.) Download TLP mask tracking spreadsheet.xls
This is another Excel spreadsheet that i made for The Little Prince which tracks the steps of the mask-making process. I left some of the information in it so you can see how anyone could check at a glance on the progress made on any mask.

Feel free to take these templates, adapt them to your own uses for your own record-keeping and project-tracking!
labricoleuse: (history)
For my birthday (back in June), some of my coworkers and i drove up to Salt Lake City, where we were treated to a backstage tour of the Utah Opera Production Studios by their resident costume crafts artisan, Carmen Killam.

The Utah Opera, in addition to mounting a full season of opera and operettas each year, has one of the largest costume and set rental facilities in the country. Their costume division features rental options for 59 different productions. I took a lot of photos; enjoy the pictorial tour!

tons of photographs )
labricoleuse: (hats!)
To give a feather (or feathers) extra strength and support, milliners will often wire the shaft. (What's the shaft? Click here for a good visual overview of feather-part vocabulary.) The easiest way to do this is to use a feather board, a device that can be easily made at home with thick oak-tan leather, foamcore, or even corrugated cardboard.

What does it look like and how does it work? )

Also, i wanted to offer a big welcome to the new folks who have found this blog since i have come out to Utah--things are busy and net access is sporadic, so i haven't had time to reply to each comment individually, but i am always so glad when people stumble upon this blog and enjoy its topics.
labricoleuse: (Default)
The key to making vacuform armor look good onstage and not like "OMG plastik kostoom arm0r LOL" is covering it before painting it.

For less detailed pieces (plain breastplates, smooth greves, etc) you can use felt--industrial felt if you want it thick, or craft felt or oak-tanned leather if you need it thinner. With detailed pieces, such as our lion-head-relief shoulder-guards, we're using pigsuede--it's stretchier and easy to manipulate into curves and crevices.

Here's some photos of how that works. )
labricoleuse: (hats!)
One of our productions this season is Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, set in a "Turkish fantasy land," according to the costume designer, so the crafts include a lot of various shapes of turbans draped in bright fabrics.

Here's a series of photos illustrating how I took a turban from mockup to final headdress:

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
The Utah Shakespearean Festival is world-premiering Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical this summer. If you are familiar with the play, you know that a large percentage of the farcical jokes stem from three characters all wearing the same Otello costume. (And, if you aren't familiar with the play, I just told you.)

The costume designer, Bill Black, planned on purchasing three pairs of black bucket boots from SCA Boots. However, our lead actor wound up being a man with a very wide foot (EEE), short shins and wide calves--the SCA boots didn't fit! So my task was to build him some boots identical to the two purchased pairs.

Here's how I did it... )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
Our Costume Crafts Supervisor, Julia Powell, is an expert moldmaker and caster. During the regular season, she works in the Props shop of the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (Milwaukee, WI), where she has been called upon to cast any number of bizarre things--including entire sets of "human" bones!

Recently she demonstrated how to create a flexible rubber mold to cast ornamental pieces for armor and jewelry, and i photographed the process to share here.

lots of images and process info )
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
In the course of making a hat, helmet, glove, boot, breastplate, what-have-you, the making of a mockup is an essential step in the process. A mockup allows you to see a three-dimensional shape of the piece and fit it to an actor; it gives you a "canvas" onto which the designer can manipulate scale of aesthetic elements. I try to make mockups from something as close in nature to the final material--vinyl or heavy felt mockups for leather items, poly jersey for knit caps, thin craft foam for Fosshape thermoformable felt pieces.

If a piece is likely to be needed in rehearsal, it's helpful to make the mockup in such a fashion that it can be finished off and used as such.

Here are some images of mockups: armor, hats, boots, and more! )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
One of the exciting things we are doing this year is vacuforming a new batch of armor for this summer's production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. Today we went over to one the Festival's two scenery shops where the larger of their two vacuform machines is housed. (The smaller machine being over in the Props shop, apparently; i've never seen it so i can't attest to that.) Vacuforming is one of those things that often seems daunting to those who haven't had first-hand experience with it, but it's not that big of a deal, really.

Want to see how it is done?

photos and such, and a link for how to build your own machine... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
I've just finished up a cross-country drive from North Carolina to Utah!

The PlayMakers Repertory Company season has come to a close (reopening in the fall) and we professional production artisans on staff at traditional seasonal theatres often travel to work at one of the many summer theatre or opera companies during the break.

Last year, i worked as a crafts artisan in the costume department of the Utah Shakespearean Festival, and really enjoyed the experience. If you haven't been reading this blog since August of 2006, you can read all about the company (with some cool pictures, too!) here, in a post i made last year, and by clicking the "utah" tag in the sidebar to the left, find several posts pertaining to last season. That post linked in the previous sentence shows some of the facilities as well, including a few images of the crafts building (though i'm planning on doing a "Virtual Tour" of the whole crafts facility in an upcoming post).

This year, i've returned with a bit of an "upgrade"--I'm now the assistant manager of the Costume Crafts department, and also Lead Crafts Artisan for the world premiere of the new musical Lend Me a Tenor (based on the stage play by Ken Ludwig). My posts for the next couple months will focus on topics pertaining to the production of the shows this season, from a crafts perspective--we've got lots of armor, hats, crowns, and leather goods so it should be some fun stuff.

In addition, I hope at least a few of my fellow staff will agree to help me launch a new feature i've been tossing around for a while: artisan interviews! We've got a very talented milliner from the St. Louis Repertory on staff, a visiting artist who was the road manager for a Cirque du Soleil production, an amazing moldmaker/caster who's a propmaster at Milwaukee Repertory as our Crafts manager, and a whole crew of great artisans (including two of my graduate students from UNC-Chapel Hill). Hopefully a couple of them will agree to interviews about their careers and fields of specialty, because i'd love to have this blog feature more than "ME ME ME" and my projects and my students' projects and my opinions on shows and craftwork (because, while i do like myself quite a bit and am proud of my work, the egocentric nature of blogging is something that makes me vaguely uncomfortable on some level).

So, that's where i'm at and what's coming up here on La Bricoleuse. Upcoming posts will definitely involve some Elizabethan stuff and some fin de siecle stuff, among other, well, stuff!

And, they're totally off-topic, but here are some photos from the road I'd like to share:

six pictures )
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
In the balcony-level lobby of the USF's Randall Theatre there is a small exhibit of masks from the Festival's costume collection. The masks are from past productions, and are exhibited on headforms with small placards detailing which production, what year the piece was made, and of what materials. The headforms are suspended on long gold hooks attached to the wall opposite a bank of large windows. I believe this exhibit will be on display for the duration of both the summer and fall seasons (2006).

I photographed most of the pieces on display.

five photographs with commentary )
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
Dress Up Your Shakespeare: Utah's festival costume demands keep couture crew in stitches, by Ellen Fagg

Welcome to another undramatic morning behind the scenes at the festival, where a variety of houses, tents and backstage wings serve as busy costume and set shops for what's thought to be the only theater repertory company in the world to launch six plays in six days.

Yes, that's the actual cringe-inducing headline, and the byline is no joke. Despite this, it's a fairly well-written overview article on the Festival's costume division. The "Six Plays, Six Days" reference makes us seem like total champs, but it's no grand feat really--they just hire enough people to get the job done. Unlike, say, some other repertory companies out there. These folks interviewed the USF costume director, Jeffrey Lieder, who's about to open his 20th season here. I'd be interested to see a hard copy of the paper, to see if there were any accompanying photographs that didn't make it into the online edition. A couple different camera crews trooped through the crafts house this summer, in one case photographing me stitching a cavalier cuff onto the top of a riding boot on the oscillating-shuttle longarm machine.

ETA: They have since added a link to a photo gallery, which does include the pic of me stitching a boot.

I do take exception to the comment by the interim director that costuming is a technology that hasn't changed in 200 years (forgivable, since i hardly expect him to be on the cutting edge of costuming technology, but still). I'd bet my right arm no costumers two centuries ago were, say, utlizing thermoplastics in millinery foundation structures or embroidering with computerized machines or airbrushing dimension into distressed costume pieces. But, why split hairs? Any press is good press, so they say.
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
[Reviews of performances are written from the particular perspective of a costume crafts artisan, and thus focus largely on technical and aesthetic aspects of costume craft items and properties.]

John Murray's and Allen Boretz's play Room Service, written in 1937, is what's typically referred to as either a "screwball comedy" or a "zany farce"--the script is full of broad physical comedy, lots of intricate plot-based gags and a breakneck pace driven by nonstop manic action with little or no character development. It's one of the two non-Shakespeare play offerings in this summer's Festival season.

Essentially, the plot can be summed up thus: a destitute company of theatre folk attempt to hoodwink the staff of a fine NYC hotel into underwriting their play, which they believe will be Broadway's next smash-hit. The characters are all broad caricatures--the naive playwright from the country, the conniving producer, the crafty bombshell, the eccentric director, the bumbling hotel manager--and the scheming bullshittery of dialogue flies by so fast you don't have time to consider whether these are realistic or sympathetic characters, you only have time to laugh. It's no surprise that this script was optioned by Hollywood as a vehicle for Groucho Marx.

If you dig that sort of thing, USF's production is a great show, no doubt about it.

I found it entertaining enough--a fine way to spend a hot afternoon, in a velvet-upholstered seat amidst air-conditioned comfort--but what really caught my interest wasn't the play itself; it was the props, set-dressing, and craft pieces. The artistic staff on this production elected to do it as a period piece in late 1930s style.

The entire show takes place over a period of 5 days in the same hotel suite, a room in the posh White Way Hotel, located above the White Way Theatre on Broadway. The set is a triumph of Deco aesthetics, from the matched antique bedroom set (purchased at a junk shop in Salt Lake, i gather), to the ubiquitous stencil motifs on all the doors, to the hand-screened 7-color wallpaper, the entire design executed in a period color palette of aquamarine, rust, gold, and blond wood veneer. Through the various doors we catch glimpses of the hotel halls (broadly stenciled as well in wine and cream) and the bathroom (period fixtures and painted with a Deco tile effect in greens and cream). Above the faux molding around the top of the "room" is a stylized cutout of the NY skyline and the very tip of the HOTEL sign itself, lit up occasionally. This photo has a fairly good view of the period leaping-stag motif wallpaper and stenciled doors.

From a costuming perspective, the most fascinating thing about this show for me was all the period mens undergarments. (Believe me, it's purely professional--all the men strip off to their skivvies at least once in the show, but none of them are really anyone i'd care to view in drawers-only mode outside the realm of theatrical performance.) If you're a fan of various styles of sock garters, buttflapped onesies for adult men, henleys, wifebeaters, and yoked boxers, this is the show for you. There's even a bright pink union suit.

Unfortunately for me, i'm not particularly into the style of women's hats in the show (wide brim, very shallow crown), though there's a sight-gag costume of a glitzed-up "Betsy Ross" (calf-length trumpet skirt and matching bodice in blue satin with huge glittery silver stars all over it, trimmed in red sparkle-organza circle-ruffles dotted in red rhinestones) with an adorably-rendered cocktail mobcap. Yes, that says cocktail mobcap, and i'm totally not BS-ing you.

There are two pairs of shoes worth mentioning from a crafter's perspective as well. The first is some red-and-white spectator pumps that were hand-painted by craft artisan Kyle Schellinger using Tarrago Acrylic Shoe Dye. And yes, "acrylic dye" doesn't make much sense to me either, but so be it. It's what they use here and claim has more sticktuitiveness than typical Magix shoe sprays or Angelus paints. Anyhow, the point of the spectators is just that--they aren't actual spectators! It's just an illusion! But damn, do they look good from the 4th row where i was sitting. I believe that he masked them with pinked tape, then went back and added in the dots typical of spectator edging. There's no good shot of them on the site unfortunately, but they match the dress in this photo.

The other notable shoe pair is the T-straps that go with the "Betsy Ross" costume--a pair of character shoes to which Schellinger hand-glued an array of red, silver, and blue sequins in swirling stripes, and including a scattering of star-shaped crystals. Sparkle-tacular!

Overall, not a terribly challenging play crafts-build-wise, but there are a few gems and the stencilwork on the set was well worth checking out.
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
This summer, i've been working in the Costume Crafts department at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, UT. My contract is quickly coming to an end, and as such, I thought i'd write up a little overview of the company, some facts and some of my own opinions on how it is to work here as a costumer.

Though i'd known of it since undergrad (one of my former professors has designed here since the late 1980s), i didn't know til this summer that the Utah Shakespearean Festival has been in operation since 1962. It employs a total of around 350 folks each summer and fall, though only 28 people work here on a year-round basis. The company won the prestigious regional theatre Tony Award in 2000, which is no mean feat--one theatre per year gets it, and it's for recognized continuing excellence in regional theatre. No upstarts there, a theatre has to have been kicking ass and taking names for a good while in the eyes of the Tony voters to receive the award.

Summer isn't the only time theatre happens here in Cedar City; the USF also features a short three-show fall season, though for the purposes of my review, i'm only addressing the six-show summer portion (that being my experience here).

The festival has two main performance spaces, the Adams Theatre (an outdoor space built in the same fashion as typical 16th-century Tudor stages, with 888 seats) and the Randall Theatre (a modern indoor house that seats 769 people). In addition to the five plays and one musical offered in a typical summer season, the festival also hosts a free nightly "Greenshow," which consists of English and Irish folk dances, songs, and short humor skits poking fun at whatever shows are on the season's roster. Of the five plays in a summer season, three are Shakespeare productions performed in the Adams.

Something i find particularly interesting and exciting about the USF is its enormous import to its community--not only do 96% of its patrons come from the Southwest (60% are resident Utahns), but ticket sales actually provide around 80% of its operating budget. Its shows typically sell out nearly all performances. You'd be hard-pressed to find a local who's not familiar with the Festival, and who'd never gone to see anything they presented.

The typical design-fare of the USF shows is largely traditional--no "Tempest in spacesuits set in 2050" or "I'm seeing as Velvet Goldmine meets Richard II" wacky reinterpretations. This can be exciting from a craftsperson's perspective, particularly in terms of historic/traditional armor and millinery possibilities. Budgets for crafts items here seem to be sufficient enough to not have to scrimp and cut corners in quality of output--hides of leather, yardage of Fosshape, gold leafing, all of these have been readily available as-needed, no "making-do" with cheap pleather, craft felt and white glue, metallic acrylics. Working in the craft shop here definitely yields at least a few good portfolio-quality pieces.

I mentioned the 350-person employee-roster; here's how that breaks down for a costumer at USF for a typical summer season. In crafts alone we have a 10-person team: a supervisor, assistant supervisor, 7 lead crafts artisans, and one "floater"/intern. Dyeing/painting is an entirely different department, though typically only has 1-2 staffing that shop. The main costume shop itself is two stories, broken into five work rooms with 2-6 tables each (I'm guesstimating around 35 shop staff, counting drapers, first hands, stitchers, and supervisors?), four large fitting rooms, break room, and storage. The dye shop is also housed in the basement of that building. Crafts is off in a separate house, as is Hair/Makeup (staffed by around 8-10 wig technicians--this is a brilliant place to work if you want to learn to make lace-front wigs and hand-tied hairpieces!).

In the Crafts house, the space is divided into four workrooms, with two crafters' tables in each. The two supervisors each have a sort of "office foyer" on opposite ends of the house. Supply and tool storage is divided among the workrooms, with a different focus in each room--one for leatherworking tools and supplies, one for armor/casting, one for millinery/sewing, and one for jewelry. In terms of equipment, the crafts house includes an industrial walking-foot machine and an industrial patcher/bootstitcher, three domestic Berninas, an overlock machine, a gravity-feed ironing station, and industrial grommet/rivet setter, two industrial steamers, and a wide range of wood hatblocks, as well as a full array of hand-tools, casting materials, paints, solvents, adhesives, etc. Craftspersons are expected to bring their own portable kits (shears, craft scissors, thimbles, blades, etc), smocks, closed-toe footwear, and respirators.

The craft department schedule is standardized and regimented--the Monday-through-Friday shift starts promptly at 8:30am and ends exactly at 6pm, with two 20-minute breaks (one at 10:30am, one at 4pm) and an hour's lunch (12:30-1pm). Saturday is typically a half-day, 8:30am-1pm with a single break mid-shift. The shop allows conversation while working and the use of mp3 and CD players.

Hiring seems to have a healthy dose of what i call "legacy" involved--those who've worked here before to their supervisors' satisfaction are asked back the following season, with open slots in the shop going first to "newbies" with a professional reference from current staff, and assumedly, any other open slots after that filled by those without direct connections. I gather it is fairly hard to get in the hiring-door without knowing someone who works here or has worked here, and sometimes it can be tedious when those who've been here multiple seasons start dropping metaphorical trou with oneupmanshippy "This is my eighth season, donchaknow" conversations.

The Festival provides its employees with housing in furnished apartments (including full kitchens and baths), in addition to paying a modest but by no means paltry salary. Honestly, the apartments are no great shakes (ha!), but they aren't the skankiest place I've ever laid my head at night--i wouldn't sign a lease on the place I'm in now, but to live in for 2 months worth of my life, it's certainly more than acceptable. I have my own bathroom and the kitchen's got a dishwasher. I might have made more cash by staying home and working, say, as a night-shift grocery store stocker for $13/hour all summer, but i wouldn't have gotten any portfolio or resume fodder out of that, and it certainly wouldn't have been creatively stimulating or challenging. Plus, dude, night shift blows.

If I had it to do over again, i'd find some way to drive my car out here--you can definitely get by just fine in Cedar City without a car, but it's just that: getting by. I can walk to work, to the grocery store, to all the little shops and restaurants down main street, but on the days off, it's no fun to be smack in the middle of the Great Wide Open of southern Utah, with all the amazing National Parks within a couple hours' drive, and be dependent upon the whims of any of your coworkers who did have the foresight to drive vehicles out here for the summer. With a car, a weekend in Vegas or Salt Lake City or hiking around Bryce Canyon would be mine for the choosing.

All in all, i have had a good experience working here, and would certainly seriously consider returning next season.

The Randall Theatre.
The statue is of Juliet.

more photographs of the USF facilities )

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