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Costumers visually connect audiences with the characters on stage

When you go to the movies or attend a play, there is one element that is often underappreciated, although slaved over tremendously: the costumes.

I can say confidently that over the years I have come to deeply appreciate the costume warriors in theater. A skilled wardrobe person is meticulous in his or her ability to know what looks good for a particular performer or era, and generally speaking, he or she will even consider an actor’s comfort.

When I had the great fortune to portray the French maid, Thérèse, in Geoffrey Sherman’s adaption of Sherlock Holmes at Alabama Shakespeare Festival a few years back, I got to see a truly superb wardrobe department function as a machine of only the highest caliber.

I came in for my first fitting having no idea what to expect and came away knowing that the costume would fit me like a glove. I even got to peek at the renderings the costume designer had created for my look. 

We plunged into rehearsals for the production, and I began to morph into – not a caricature of a French maid – but a real, curious, troubled, coifed Thérèse. A few months later, I was trying on my costume with new underthings, heeled authentic Victorian boots, authentic petticoat, pleated maid dress and lacy ornate apron. Added to the mix was my gorgeous wig and headpiece, and my character became a living, breathing being. 

Even now, I look at pictures of me as Thérèse, and I don’t quite see myself at all. I’m transformed because of the hard work and visions of the costumers, and the hair and makeup team.

Things are no different in community and school theaters. When you see a production of any kind, chances are there were some devoted volunteers who worked hard to create specific looks. Many of my dear friends slave over thrift store bargains and sew until their fingers bleed, all for the sake of community theater costuming. 

The Tallassee High School students' fall show, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which I directed, included gorgeous costumes that were, I’m proud to say, true to the era. 

The unsung heroes of that production were the “Costume Stars,” as we called them. I recruited three of the actors’ moms to help put costumes on some 50 kids in the show. We were able to borrow many of the 1950s and 1960s dresses from an amazing boutique. 

Almost all of the other costumes came from a magical place called The Wetumpka Depot storage facility. If you think you know what a messy closet looks like, think again. The Depot storage is a warehouse of wall-to-wall props, clothing, accessories, furniture, etc.

In a facility like that, there are a million little gold mines waiting to be matched with the right actors, so they can become realistic versions of their characters. Take away Charlie Chaplin’s hat and cane, and what have you got? 

The Wetumpka Depot is looking for some volunteers to help Marie Kondo the place into the Best Storage Facility Ever. If interested, go to the Wetumpka Depot Volunteers Facebook page; join and post, saying, “I want to help KonMari the storage facility.” 

I’ll even come organize with you, so the costume designers can keep doing their best work. 

In the mean time, I’ll get to transforming myself into someone who cleans my own home, the Marie Kondo way. Happy New Year, everyone!