Though this year’s musical, The Secret Garden, doesn’t open until February 27, the production takes months of preparation. As students and staff are hard at work getting everything ready, we took the opportunity to step behind the scenes and look at costumes and set pieces from musicals past.
Below, we chat to Jane Smith, Campus Shop manager and sewing savant, who has created costumes for three productions. In the video we talk to art student Amal Khan, who painted sets for Guys & Dolls, about the intricacies of adding colour to the sets.
SMUS Review: What got you interested in designing costumes for our productions?
Jane Smith: When Kay Weber asked if anyone might want to help with costumes for My Fair Lady, I offered to do a bit of sewing. Kay had a garment that was reminiscent of the period and wanted me to copy it. I made a pattern and sewed the sample and from that Kay and David Gauthier, with a leap of faith, asked me to create gowns for the Ascot scene which involved styling approximately 18 outfits. Most of the fabric had already been purchased as the colour theme had been chosen. This was actually quite inspiring, putting combinations together and making use of the shorter lengths left from a hat making workshop.
SR: Where do you start on such a large project?
JS: The first thing I do is research the styles that were typically worn during the period of the play to get a feel for the silhouette and fabric.
SR: How do you decide what to rent and what to make?
JS: I concentrate on one or two scenes or groups of characters and Erika Schweitzer visits Langham Court Theatre or other rental locations and gathers costumes and accessories which will be suitable for the rest of the production. Erika also does a lot of sewing and pulls it all together.
SR: Can you give me an idea of the process of making a costume?
JS: I start with sketching ideas: necklines, sleeves and skirt shapes that I can refer to as the process develops. Usually the next step is to visit the local fabric stores and check what is available, and hope that the fabrics can be purchased at a discount. Sometimes the perfect fabric is found in the remnant bin. In the meantime I take measurements of the students as soon as the casting is done so I can start drafting patterns. In some cases a muslin sample is required so adjustments can be made before cutting in to the fabric. There are several fittings as the garment is sewn and a final check of the length to make sure the girls do not trip on the hem while dancing.
SR: How long does it take to create one of the more intricate costumes?
JS: The most time-consuming costume so far has been the gown for Rose in the Secret Garden. It was made from delicate fabric that was quite challenging to cut and sew. This gown has taken well over 10 hours from start to finish. Another style that took a lot of work was the red satin dress worn in Guys & Dolls in the nightclub scene. There were 11 girls in the same style and each garment had to be adjusted to fit exactly and be strapless as the dress had to be removed in one motion during the dance routine. With Erika’s sewing skills and a bit of glue, the bodice stayed in place until it had to be removed.