Behind the Scenes at Bristol Riverside Theatre: Costumes

On Saturday May 4th, I arrive at the rehearsal studio after the lunch break.  I’m early for a scheduled meeting with the costume department, but just in time to catch a hymnal recital.  This time, the cast is practicing Rock of Ages and Walking to Zion and they are on their game as Keith Baker plays piano and coaches the chorus.  I feel like I’m walking into an old time tent revival.

The last time I heard these tunes was at the Gospel Tent at the 2003 JazzFest is New Orleans.  When the cast starts clapping their hands and sings Old Time Religion a cappellaI’m tempted to join in. It’s catchy.

The two actors playing Howard, Erik Daughterman and Alexander Ryan, are due to be fitted today.  Howard is a young student of Cates, the teacher on trial, and has the distinction of being the first character introduced in the play.  It opens with Howard, in overalls, fishing and taunting a girl with a worm. Later, in the second act, he’s in a suite when he’s called as a witness in the trial. Two actors with two costume changes call for four distinct outfits. With a cast of over forty, the costume department has their work cut out for them.

Gina Andreoli and Linda B. Stockton manage costume acquisitions, fittings and tailoring. Director Susan Atkinson tells them what she’s looking for and it’s up to Gina and Linda to make it happen and button up the details. Clothes, shoes and hats fill the fitting room waiting to be tried on, but it’s far from the full inventory of all the prior productions. The rest is in storage and one of the challenges they face is keeping the inventory in rotation without going over capacity.

Suits and dresses reminiscent of the early 20th century line the length of the room. Gina explains that with The Great Gatsby in theaters 20s fashion has enjoyed a boost in demand. My expectation was that most of the shopping would be done at thrift stores for both cost savings and for the style.  To my surprise, Gina and Linda do most of their acquisitions online using eBay. And they have some contacts with other theaters open to sharing and swapping costumes.

Alexander’s suit is a just a bit large on him, but it fits the role of a young boy having to dress up for a special occasion. It brings my grandfather to mind, who insisted on buying clothes a size too large explaining I’d “grow into it.”  Gina then marks the hems and cuffs and the fitting’s done.

Keeping the costumes in order in a cast this size requires dedication to organization. The clothes go back on the rack in a definite sequence with the lead roles up front followed by the ensemble cast. In the next week or so it’ll all be transferred to the theater and readied for production.

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