A Pound of Flesh (and Further Adventures at the USITT Annual Conference)

Cal Shakes Costume Director Naomi Arnst blogs from this year’s USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Milwaukee.

Wednesday 3/20: THE CONFERENCE BEGINS!

Tutus and more from the Milwaukee Ballet's 2009 production of The Nutcracker.

Tutus and more from the Milwaukee Ballet's 2009 production of The Nutcracker.

The first session for costumers was on building tutus, led by the professionals at the Milwaukee Ballet. They had beautiful samples from their Nutcracker, built in 1989 and still ticking. Discussions ensued on creating tutus as well as the costumes of other animal and nonhuman characters that need mass, but still need to be danced in. There was a lot of use of plastic boning and hooping for these structures; other structures were shaped entirely with pleated tulle. The presenters also discussed methods of painting and decorating tutus, bodices, and doublets.

Next was the “Pound of Flesh” session: a discussion on different methods of constructing Fat Padding, as it’s called in our business. This includes any change in body type, including pregnancy pads. Air-conditioning foam and latex foam are the preferred materials. Doll pellets—the same thing as the acrylic beads used for fake flower arrangements—are also common; we use these at Cal Shakes. We cannot use bird seed for costumes worn at our outdoor theater, as it attracts all sorts of wildlife and does not launder well. I learned about a new material for this purpose: bean bag filler, which you can get new or used. The bean bag filler they had on display was Styrofoam-based, lightweight, and really the size of a bean. It seems like that would work really well. Fat Padding is usually applied to an existing t-shirt, undergarment, unitard, or custom-made garment, always taking into consideration how easy the costume is to get in and out of, and whether or not it requires a quick change.

For a designing break, the following session was a hands-on series of round-table discussions about different products used in costume renderings. Each table had different products, and session-goers were able to try their own hands at it. There were tips for design markers, watercolor pencil, grey-scale inks, and more. It was fascinating and it worked well for a big crowd.

Katherine Hepburn, fashion icon

Katherine Hepburn, fashion icon

The next session I attended was called “Costumes of Hollywood Legend & Fashion Icon Katharine Hepburn.” When Hepburn died, all of the clothing and costumes that she owned were given to the History Museum at Kent State University in Ohio. Since then, some of it has been loaned out for exhibition at museums in NYC and Ocala, Florida. We viewed her transformation into a leading lady, and learned about the iconic styles she pioneered until the day she died.

To end the day, it was time to attend the annual Costume Commission meeting where we get together and discuss new projects, old triumphs, and more. We also get to vote on next year’s session lineup, which is quite stressful since there are so many to choose from! I mostly voted for sessions on Costume Management, of course.

With a long day over, it was time to go enjoy some food and drink with my professor of Costume Design and Drama from Santa Clara University, and my former Shakespeare Santa Cruz employee Debbie Webber. Debbie is now the Costume Shop Manager at her Alma Mater, San Jose State University.

That was a very long conference day! Stay tuned for news from Thursday’s events.

 

Share

Corset in a Day (and Other Adventures at the USITT Annual Conference)

Cal Shakes Costume Director Naomi Arnst blogs from this year’s USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Milwaukee.

Monday 3/18: Monday was a travel day, and I got stuck in Chicago O’Hare Airport for an extra three hours—snow everywhere. But I made it to Milwaukee with minutes to spare before watching Zendaya knock her dance out of the park on Dancing with the Stars.

Tuesday 3/19: Professional Development Workshop

The corset-in-a-day project in process.

The corset-in-a-day project in process.

I rose early the next morning to find the weather at 16 degrees. We took a school bus from the Milwaukee Convention Center to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Costume Shop where 25 of us set about the challenge of making an 1890s corset in a day. We cut out our coutile (underlining) pieces, picked our fashion fabric, and cut that out. We sewed the backs, put the ¼-inch bones and grommets in, and then learned a new technique to conceal the seams while sewing it. These concealed seams also turned into boning channels, making it much faster to construct.

Onto the front of the corset, and time to get the center front ready to put in the busk: the center front closure that has hooks and eyes embedded in the ½-inch boning. After intricate sewing and awls to push the hooks through (this was not so easy) it was time to sew the side front seams.

The corset-in-a-day project, a little further along.

The corset-in-a-day project, a little further along.

We had lunch, and then got back to it. Unfortunately it was about this time that the power went out at all of UWM, creating an even bigger challenge. And the emergency lights didn’t work either! So we used our iPhones to safely reach the windowed front hall of the Theater building, all were a bit sad since we were so close to finishing our corsets. Now it was all very uncertain. But with warning sirens and constant beeping, we decided this would be a good time to do fittings and final lectures! After about a half-hour the sirens stopped and 90 or so minutes after the initial power outage, the power came back. We ran downstairs to try and finish our corsets.  With a few more hours of super fast-paced sewing and bone setting, I almost finished! (I just need to finish some of the binding, sew the side seams, and place the bones and boning tape in the side seams. This will be finished when I get back to Cal Shakes next week, so stay tuned!)

From there we were off to the Convention Center with a nice bumpy school bus ride along Lake Michigan.

Stay tuned for more recollections of technical theater convention fun.

Share

Cal Shakes’European Vacation (OK, so it’s really our Costume Director’s trip to a costuming symposium, but …)

The following was written by Cal Shakes Costume Director Naomi Arnst. rth of the Victoria and Albert Museum announced that, at the the Costume Colloquium in November of this year, several institutions were planning a tribute to Janet Arnold, on the tenth anniversary of her death. Arnold was one of the premier dress historians of our time (her book Patterns of Fashion Vol. 3 is at right), and my hero, so, as soon as I returned home, I checked my mileage plan; I was really close to a European reward, so the plan was set.

As it turned out, however, I had to fly free to Munich first. This was the first time I had ever been to Germany and, being half German, I was right at home. It was like returning to my childhoodthe food, the language, the musicall brought me back. One of my favorite things, of course, was the Bavarian embrace of the ethnic dressit just made me giddy. Since I used to be a muumuu designer in Honolulu, it’s great to see other cultures wherein ethnic dress has become widely adopted kitsch (see photo to the right). While in Bavaria, I climbed to the Neuschwanstein Castle to see how King Ludwig II lived, and the next day did a Sound of Music foot tour of Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg was fabulous, and the locals really do wear the Tyrolean garb as day wear. The Old City takes your mind back to Mozart’s time, and earlier. Then again, my mind is known to time travel.

In May of 2007, at a Costume Society of America Symposium, Susan No

Soon it was on to the main event: The Costume Colloquium in Florence, Italy. A nine-hour train ride later, I was there (I think I’m done with sleeper cars after this trip). The weather was fabulous the whole time in Florence; if I wasn’t in a symposium session I was walking my feet off for six days straight.

The Costume Colloquium focused on several aspects of the field of History of Dress. ng-based one. This change has been directly affected by Janet Arnold’s tireless research and search for accuracy. Second, the articles themselves. Representatives from the Medici Tomb research team spoke about their most recent findings, coffins unearthed when the tomb was most recently opened. The wooden boxes had collapsed, but the bodies and clothes were preserved in mud from the river Arno in a 1960s flood. One little boy, in his fine burial suit, could not be touched, so 360-degree photography and computer imaging were used to figure out his mysteries. It was quite amazing to see the process—before computers were widely used, other Medici garments were studied with photography, drawing, painting (see Girolamo Macchietti’s portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici at right), and lots and lots of handling. This can be seen in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion Vol. 3 (cover pictured above).re to be found in Venice, Milan, Genoa And Florence. But the 20th century is represented at the Museo del Tessuto, where we found a history of manufacturing, and how it changed dress. In Florence, the Pucci Family chronicles 60 years of Roberto Pucci’s colorful, and now timeless, designs. And we got to tour the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, which celebrates the living legend (and which features the shoe at left). We also got to hang out in the designer’s home for a cocktail party—it was palatial, fitting for someone who got his start in Hollywood in its heyday. The last aspect of dress that we examined was documentation: Whether it be in books, online, or in exhibits, getting the information to the public is the thing. For people who love fashion like I do, we are very lucky that major galleries like the Tate Britain in London, the de Young in San Francisco, LACMA, and the Met in NY now think nothing of displaying both paintings and their corresponding dress at the same time, in the same exhibit. This is a huge breakthrough. The popularity of Project Runway has also helped fuel the dialogue of bringing the love of fashion and its understanding to the masses, and the popularity of reenactment and historical interpretation have also kept the study of dress a lively topic.

One of my last stops was a tour of the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence and the hisorical home of Cosimo Medici, Eleonora di Toledo, and their daughter, Maria de Medici (depicited in the painting at right by Alessandro Allori). The educational staff and interpreters are set up at so that schoolchildren can put on renaissance costumes and be part of the dialogue; the Palazzo’s educational agenda is to get the public engaged in the time period, instead of just feeding it to them, so it was fun and theatrical, too.It was a great trip—I learned about advances in information gathering, computer-aided research, and much more, all while gaining a broader worldwide perspective. If you want to learn more about the fascinating group that organized the Colloquium, click here, but be warned: Navigating away from that link will dunk you into Italian-language waters. Ciao!

First, on the status of academic programs in the UK, Italy, Switzerland, and some in the US. There are more programs in Dress, Archeology, Restoration, and Costume than ever before, but to keep funding is a real battle in these strained economic times. As a result, many programs are moving toward an artifact-based study, instead of a strictly painti

The most important collections of historic Italian dress (some even dating back to the 12th Century) a

Share