Costume shop turns time inside out
8:32:38 AM CDT - Thursday, May 13, 2004
By Shannon Littlejohn
|Professor Betty Monroe, who's in charge of the theater|
costume shop, admires a hat stored in one of the
dozen, neatly organized closets tucked in the Wilner
Auditorium attic space.
Touring Betty Monroe's costume shop is like cruising into a time warp — and that's not just because of its location in one of the older buildings on campus, Wilner Auditorium.
What warps a viewer's sense of time is the mix of period costumes that rush through the shop on dress forms and clothing racks.
On this particular day, it's the turn of the century as cruel corsets, pointy-toed ladies' lace-up boots with tiny high heels, caps, goggles, boaters and bonnets line up for the cast's first dress rehearsal of Eugene O'Neil's comic "Ah, Wilderness!"
Monroe, the School of Performing Arts professor who oversees the shop and teaches design to theater majors, is pointing out her students' and her own handiwork on the show.
It's a running commentary as her capable hands sort through the wardrobe rack.
|Jessica Lewis, a sophomore majoring in theater, |
stitches a costume. Students in the Costuming for
Stage theater class get hand-on experience working
on costumes for WSU productions. All theater majors
must take the class.
"The play is in turn-of-the-century time," says Monroe, "when they wore these simple little skirts."
With a flourish, she whips out an ankle-length gored skirt.
"And this is the Fourth of July so she (the teenage sister in the show) will have on the skirt and this little blouse," she says of a poofy-sleeved, blue sailor-collared blouse with white trim.
"They have to go on an automobile ride," Monroe continues, reaching for a big, frothy hat that ties with white tulle. As she puts it back in its place, she picks up the dashing leather cap and goggles that the driver of the early auto will wear.
"The brother has white pants — he's the one who is off at Yale — so I got a striped shirt and white vest, and … looks like we need to press this a little bit … ."
Monroe never misses a beat as she moves toward one of her most prized finds for the O'Neill comedy — an original straw "boater" hat that came from "Hatman Jack" (Jack Kellogg) at Wichita Hatworks. She had priced one at a local vintage clothing store but it was a bad fit for the costume shop's budget, which is tight. So if it's something a costume designer can't make, Monroe will go shopping for the best bargain.
Joyce Cavarozzi, associate professor of theater, says Monroe is wonderful at holding down costs, in addition to being a great teacher and colleague.
|Students Katie Chihaby, front, and Briley Meek, in the|
background, work in the second-floor costume shop
in Wilner Auditorium.
"She's got to be one of the best financial managers," says Cavarozzi, "as well as being one of the top designers."
Monroe enjoys the challenges.
"This is a training place for designers," she says, panning with an open hand the room full of worktables and students stitching, cutting, pinning and wrangling armfuls of material.
The easy camaraderie is palpable between Monroe and crew, which includes Rebecca Maholland, Brandy Jacobs, Jessica Lewis, Jessica Carr and Katie Chihaby.
The students learn how to create, fit and make costumes — and experience the stress of trying to meet show deadlines. Monroe says it's fun to watch the costumes and their designers go through the steps.
First, they make the pattern. Then they make the outfit in muslin. After a fitting, they make corrections on the muslin. Then it goes into fabric.
"Now, sometimes we find out the fabric is a little different than the muslin," says Monroe. "Right, girls?"
A collective laugh runs through the room.
|Costumes take shape first on paper. These designs|
were for the recent production of Eugene O'Neill's
"The thing about costume design is that there are so many different facets," says Monroe, including research in history and anthropology.
Then there are the more mundane details, among them costume storage.
But a trip up to the fourth-floor storage area is anything but dull. Tucked up above Wilner's theater is a long corridor with about a dozen rooms. Behind each closed door is the stuff of children's dress-up dreams.
A roomful of hats; a room just for women's shoes and another full of men's; the Renaissance room; women's dresses from the 1920s to 1950s; purses; a 1960s to present-day room; men's storage for 1930s-vintage suits; more men's suits …
With the price of vintage clothing (right now, a '30s suit goes for about $300 on eBay), Monroe is always happy to take donations and will trade the goodwill by writing tax letters for the donors.