When I first knew that I would be going to Oxford to assist on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the Playhouse I starting researching on SpareRooms and GumTree to see if anything was available but to no real avail. I was advised by Amanda Hambleton to have a look at some of the youth hostels around, so I rang around a few days before to check the availability, got on the train on Sunday then went straight to the YHA which was handily situated next to the train station and got myself booked in – it felt very spontaneous and exciting! The YHA is clean, tidy and well kept, even though the bathroom in my shared room smells – but that is the only negative aspect so far! The beds are comfy and the room is warm! I have been lucky this week with my room mates so far, they are al very pleasant and friendly so I feel very safe in our little room.
I took the opportunity of a later start for me in the morning of the 24th by having a wonder through Oxford and getting a feel for the place; it was lovely to get the chance to appreciate the beauty of this ancient city! I grabbed some breakfast then headed to the theatre.
I was introduced to all the costume crew then set to work! Most of the costumes have been hired or have come from the store of costumes so we were able to alter them to fit properly. So most of the alterations are for wear and tear, making sure they are in good quality for the shows. Other forms took the shape of embellishing; so for example we had a plain red coat with black collar and cuffs which needed jazzing up a bit with some gold cord.
Then came some fittings with the ensemble and the group I was in focussed on the two women who had around 5 outfits to try on in 45 mins! So it was tight but exiting and there were only a few things which needed taking in or letting out – but these needed to be done by the next day as the main cast had a photo shoot sceduled in their opening costumes – therefore we starting on those alterations first – for example, taking in some bodices, reducing straps to fit flat on the shoulders and sorting out embellishment to cover gaps in fastenings. It was all very exciting and a fab first day!
The second day was more of the same – altering clothes to fit the dancers and to make sure that they can move easily. I think that was one of the main points I have had to focus on so far, making sure the costumes allow movement and freedom especially because many of the dancers are performing circus skills! We had to get all the opening outfits altered for 2pm for the photos so we wanted to use it as a second fitting for these and I’m glad we did because we had to take in a few of the female dancers bodice and change one of the men’s throusers because the director did not like the colour. Next we had to quickly get them all changed and back to rehersals in time and clear the way for the children to come and have their fittings – overall we had 8 boys and 12 girls to fit, they were paired up for each costume as not one child can do all the shows on every day, so one costume has to fit two different children! Tricky but we think we have cracked it and we only came out of it with some minor alterations to perform – I think this will end up being my job as the other girls have alterations on their own costumes they have made to sort out. It was a later night than we expected but a lot of fun and it means we hopefully have a complete list of everything which needs doing! We wrote out every little thing we had to do and took great delight in striking them off with a red Sharpie!
Over the rest of the week I learnt how to insert dress shields (small circles of fabric, folded in half over the underarm seam, which are poppered down so they can be taken out wash and replaced easily) and I was also given the job of making ‘fake’ saris – we needed a way of wearing a sari which would be quick and easy to put on over the final costumes and then removed just before the bowing. Therefore, we decided to gather the unembellished top edge of the sari to the length of the stretch of an elastic waistband, then machine the gathered sari onto it. Sew down the length of the sari creating the skirt, now we have an embellished length which can be arranged on the actors, to hide their outfits with poppers and hook and bars for quick changes.This technique of stretching elastic and sewing lengths of fabric or even clothing on to it was a new technique for me but one which was used throughout the production as a quick fix for the problem of looseness and one which will be useful for me to remember!
I also got to know the other girls working for Amanda quite well – a few final year students from Bournemouth, who had deigned and made costumes for some of the principle characters, and the two older girls who were employed for the whole run through! So we had a really lovely team around us which made the work a lot nicer and the days go a lot quicker – we even socialized outside the theatre with a movie on Orange Wednesdays and an evening out in Oxford which was brilliant!
I experienced the ‘get in’ process which was tiring and busy but good fun! We had to pack up all the costumes and equipment, put them on a truck and unload them at the theatre and get settled into the wardrobe room – we were able to spread into the children’s dressing room to give us all more space; with windows and free tea or coffee! So perfect working conditions! We stayed late working through our copious lists and we were able to move onto the children’s alterations which was a huge weight off our minds!
As we moved on through our to do’s we came across obsticles like running out of hook and bars and having to make do with hooks and hand made bars which was a new skill for me and one which will be very useful in the future! By sewing a few lines of thread over each other and going over them with button hole stitch to strengthen them!
We had to label all the children’s clothing because two were sharing one set of costumes and if anything got mislaid we needed to know who it was fitted to – so that was a job and a half but since there were 3 of, the task went smoothly.
I also experienced quick fixes in tea breaks, so if anything needed taking in, letting out, or buttons needed sewing back on and the costume was needed again it would be all hands on deck to get through it!
I also brushed up on my herring bone stitch to secure hems, something which I had not really used very often but now I feel well versed in hand sewing because we could not make any permanent alterations to the hired costumes, and herring bone is a quick stitch to unpick, although time consuming to create.
I have had such a lovely time working with Amanda and her team; I feel I have learnt a lot about the way theatre costumes are made and fixed, that time is precious and preciousness is not helpful. I have met some amazing people and it was a shame I could not stay for the opening night or for the rehearsals but I was off to Pippa’s wedding with her jacket…!