Spaces: Costume Shop

by Suzanne Walters Gray MFA ’04

At work in the costume shop

Deep in the bowels of the Performing Arts Center, costume designer Carol Pelletier and her students construct the costumes for Two Gentlemen of Verona, SLC’s big musical production of the fall semester.

  1. Industrial sewing machines: The shop has four, including an old Singer that used to belong to Isaac Mizrahi’s sample hand (the person who makes the first prototype of a garment). They’re faster than home machines, and your hands never leave the fabric.
  2. Carol Pelletier has worked as a costume designer since 1987. Her favorite costumes ever were for a New York City production of Macbeth set in 14th century Japan.
  3. Measurement sheets: The costume staff takes detailed measurements of all the actors. They search for appropriate pieces among the hundreds of items stuffed in their storage rooms, but it’s a challenge to find something that will fit both the actor and the vision for the show. “You get as close as you can, and then you do alterations,” Pelletier says. If they can’t find something suitable in stock, they either buy it from a thrift store or design and sew it themselves.
  4. Voodoo dolls: Traditionally, while preparing for a show, someone makes a doll out of scraps from the production “so the designer has something to stab,” says Pelletier.
  5. Breakaway peasant dress: Two Gentlemen of Verona is a pop-rock musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. There are 28 actors and 65 costumes for the show, including 12 peasant dresses fitted with Velcro so the actors can tear them off onstage. (In the original production, a musical number gave the actors time to change, but director Will Frears decided to cut the song.)
  6. Visual inspiration: “It’s a show about young people falling in love,” Pelletier explains, so the costumes are meant to emphasize the characters’ youth. “It’s about making everybody look fabulous— spring-like and vital.” As the costume designer, Pelletier works closely with the director, discussing his concept and suggesting ways to realize it within their budget. “Our entire budget for a show is basically one Armani suit,” so ingenuity is a vital resource.
  7. Sadye Harvey ’11: The costume shop is staffed entirely by students from Pelletier’s costume design classes. Harvey is a dancer as well, and recently constructed nine matching pairs of jeans for her fall performance.
  8. Libby Bland ’14 is a student in Pelletier’s first-year studies course, “Distilling the Essence: Costume for the Contemporary Stage.” She hopes eventually to design sustainable, handmade wedding dresses.
  9. Sewing exercise examples: Many other schools’ programs focus exclusively on the creative end—Pelletier has met graduate students who don’t know how to sew—but she takes an “off-Broadway approach,” where students learn to do it all. They sketch designs, create patterns, and build costumes from scratch, ending up with all the skills they need to thrive in real-world, low-budget theatre.