I’ve loved reading every one of these TOP FIVE articles, but something was missing. I realized that I didn’t have any techies yet! You know, the people who do the light design, the sound design, and the costume design. Fortunately, Jackie Allen agreed to write one for me, and while she’s also an actress, her insight into costume creation was especially fun to read. I am sure you’ll enjoy Jackie’s TOP FIVE.
Although I do costumes now, I started out, as many of us do, onstage. I believe my first show ever was a children’s musical at church. I was a sheep…I think…I don’t really remember…I was about nine. But I do remember it was a lot of fun. Then, aside from little skits at camps and school and such, I wasn’t in another show until my high school did The Wizard of Oz. I was cast as a Munchkin…a Winkie…a Tree…an Ozian…that’s how ensemble goes.
I moved to Iowa City and got involved in a church choir, which lead to involvement in two musicals and numerous small sketches. Following that, I co-directed a Popcorn Theater and a Dinner Theater. Later, I costumed and directed several plays for the daycare I worked at. After a couple years, I mustered up the courage to audition for a Dreamwell show… (Note: These are in chronological order. I could not rank them.)
5) A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller. Dreamwell, 2010.
A View From the Bridge was one of my first experiences with community theatre. When I realized that auditions were open to the public (that means anyone!), I built up enough courage to give it a shot. I was cast in An Enemy of the People in 2009. The following year I was cast in A View From the Bridge. The reason this particular show stands out is the fact that many of the cast came from different backgrounds, different acting abilities, different…well…lots of stuff. But we were all there for one purpose, to put on the best show possible for our audience. I felt very included in this group even though I was the, “new kid.” I felt welcomed by everyone, even those who had been involved with theatre for years. We chatted backstage and went out to eat. Because of this warm welcome, I kept auditioning. And when I couldn’t commit the time to carry a role, I helped backstage. I found that no matter what position I held, I was part of an amazing group of people.
Welcoming everyone, no matter their background: that’s what community theatre is about.
4) Guys and Dolls by Frank Loesser and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. City Circle, 2012.
My youngest son, Logan, had his first acting experience during this production at the age of two. The whole cast was very supportive in getting him where he needed to be when he needed to be there. Nathan, my oldest (who had just turned five) was also in this production and seemed to really enjoy watching the backgrounds change. He never missed a cue and even made a solo cross across the stage.
Funny story: A few months after the production we were walking around downtown Iowa City and twice we were stopped because the boys were recognized from their performance. Neither time did anyone recognize me. Yes, I was in the show, too. I was the one carrying the giant drum.
In addition to this being a great opportunity for Logan, Nathan, and I to spend time together, the whole cast was amazing. There were no divas; everyone all across the board, from ensemble to leads to crew, was great to work with. We spend time outside rehearsals together, we jumped in when someone was missing, we worked hard but we also just plain had fun.
Becoming an unstoppable team: that’s what community theatre is about.
3) Little Mermaid Jr. by Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater, Alan Menken and Doug Wright. Young Footliters, 2013.
After acting for several years, I started helping backstage. I found that I really enjoyed helping with costumes so when I found out Young Footliters was doing The Little Mermaid Jr. I raised both hands in hopes that they would pick me to head up costumes. Well, they did. I was ecstatic! The Little Mermaid had been my favorite movie when I was little (and one of the first my parents bought on VHS). I was so excited to be able to help make the characters I had watched a million times (probably literally) come to life onstage.
About two weeks after receiving the go-ahead to be head of costumes, however, I realized just how big of a job it was. With around 30 actors and over 60 costumes, this was not going to be easy. This was also the moment I realized just how willing parents were to help. I received e-mail after e-mail from parents (and even a few volunteers who were not parents) offering to help with costumes. One parent in particular, June Maiers, offered to take over all the “land” costumes. Wow. Then several other volunteers offered to construct a few of the trickier one and so on and so on. This gave me time to focus on Ursula, the mersisters, stingrays, jellyfish, turtles, and even a fly.
Volunteers: that’s what community theatre is about.
2) Hansel and Gretel by Vera Morris. Young Footliters, 2014.
Nathan (6-years-old at the time) decided he wanted to audition for Hansel and Gretel. He worked hard to memorize his poem for the auditions and presented himself well in front of the directors. He got the role of the Bunny. What, you don’t recall a bunny in the story? Oh, no, it wasn’t written in the script. That’s what’s great about Young Footliter directors, in this case Dave Helmuth. He read through the script and saw additional characters. We ended up adding flowers, trees, a bunny, a fox, a skunk, a dancing bear and many more characters that added more opportunities for young actors to get involved in theater. None of these roles, however, were stand-in-the-background roles! Each character had a personality and purpose. They were not onstage just to be onstage. They each had a reason to be there and learned teamwork, responsibility, accountability, and many other skills that will benefit them in the future. I also had the pleasure of costuming this show.
Teaching young people collaboration and confidence: that’s what community theater is about.
1) Man of La Mancha by Dale Wasserman, Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh. Iowa City Community Theatre, 2014.
For this play I was challenged to make a few costumes like none I had ever made before. We had two lead males, a Captain of the Guard, and a golden helmet. There was nothing that was just right in the costume closet for any of these so it was time to construct. Here are the adventures of these costumes:
The Captain: I found printed maroon fabric and gold material in the costume closet. There was no way to get more of this exact material so I had to design the costume and work with what I had; no more. I designed and created a doublet, cape, and hat by adding some buttons, interfacing, and cording. He ended up being the best dressed character of the play.
Miguel de Cervantes (lead): I purchased the main material for this, used the same pattern as the guard but with a different bottom portion. I found scraps of trim and a handful of buttons in the costume stash. This costume made me proud and sad at the same time. After I constructed this out of shinny new fabric I had to distress it. I took paint, scissors, and Velcro (never, ever, ever, rub Velcro on brocade!) and made my beautiful blue doublet look like it came from the bottom of a trash bin. Fun fact: I made his white shirt from an old bed sheet.
Sancho Panza (Miguel’s faithful sidekick): Sancho’s hat was borrowed from another theatre. His shirt was loaned from a different theatre. His shoes were found at a second-hand store. As for his vest, I constructed that out of material I had bought for personal use years ago. As any crafter knows, you never get to all the projects in your head so I was pleased that this fabric had final found a purpose.
The Golden Helmet: You cannot just buy a golden helmet that will stay on someone’s head AND look like a shaving basin AND look rusty gold in color. Trust me, I looked. So, I bought a floppy felt women’s hat. I cut it in two, added a strip of felt (to make it bigger), covered it with fabric stiffener, spray painted it gold, and cut a chunk out of it. And there you have it, a golden shaving basin helmet.
Being creative in whatever way you can: that’s what community theater is about.
Check back soon for another TOP FIVE. And check out the previous TOP FIVES here:
Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers
Jeffrey Allen Mead
Cherryl Moon Thomason
Jackie Allen has been involved in at least 26 community theatre plays since 2009. She has acted, costumed, stage-managed, stage handed, even run sound a couple times. No matter what role she has, onstage or behind the scenes, she enjoys getting to know new people, reconnecting with some and having a blast. She is officially addicted to theatre.