The Costuming Process
© John Pennoyer
Planning a theatrical production begins months before the first rehearsal. In the early stages of planning the director meets and discusses his or her vision with design team. Themes, period and production style are among the many important topics discussed. The team explores ideas for images embodied in the play and look for images that will be meaningful to the audience. They will ask themselves, “What do we want the audience to understand about our story through the visual and aural elements we’ll create?”
The designers think and prepare a great deal on their own. Early on the costume designer notes script requirements, like the number of costumes per actor, whether or not the same actor plays different characters, how many quick changes there are, etc. Then, after the creative path has been established through initial discussions with the director the process of creating the design sketches begins.
Wardrobe personnel see scripts at about the same time that the costume designer submits preliminary sketches and associated lists to the head of wardrobe and production manager. The head of wardrobe studies the preliminaries to analyze the amount of material required and the number of staff (cutters, sewers and milliners) needed to build the costumes, as well as the number of dressers and costume maintenance staff to run the performances. This information allows the production manager to decide if the designs can be achieved within the allocated budget.
If a concept proves to be beyond the scope of budget, the designer and head of wardrobe look for compromises and ways to keep the integrity of the play while addressing cost-cutting alternatives. If designs are within budget, the designer will provide more detailed final drawings so that patterns can get drafted and shopping can get underway.