Behind the Seams: Ready, Set, Stitch!
Only enjoying the final product of a show’s costume design is a lot like listening to the “best of” album from your favorite band: while you may love every song, you’re also missing out on hidden gems. The process of Wonderbound’s Costume Designer, Rachael Kras, is filled with dozens of tiny, fascinating moments that never see the light of the stage. To help illuminate her alchemy, Rachael shared her step-by-step creation process.
STEP 1: Building a Conceptual Foundation
The design for every Wonderbound production starts with a meeting between Garrett and I. Since he’s the Creative Director, the bulk of the show exists within in his imagination and it requires multiple conversations to tease vision, plot development and the overall feel of a work out of him.
Our shows fall into one of two categories: First, dance pieces communicate an impression and require costume design that is more akin to fashion design. Serenade for Strings is a good example of this style. Second, story-driven shows bring audiences along on a specific narrative journey. My work for story-driven shows is more theatrical and character focused. Gone West is a terrific example because each character's costume needed to communicate their nature, history and prejudices. Once I know the style of show Garrett’s imagining, I’m able to get a better idea on how to move forward.
Step 2: Research
Once I have a handle on where the show will go thematically or narratively, I sink my head into research. Not only do I read books, but I also listen to music and create Pinterest boards of concepts.
Step 3: Pre Concept, Second Concept and Final Concept
Next, it’s finally time for me to take all the research and conversations and convert them into sketches. In the case of Marie, my pre concept sketch focused heavily on a more historically accurate design. However, Garrett wanted to see what it would look like to lean into more modern takes on those sketches. So, I went in an almost sci-fi direction for second concept by including higher necklines and modern dresses. Yet, that didn't quite work. Finally, we arrived at final concept, which basically brought us back to an anachronistic 17th Century take on the design.
Step 4: Buying
Once Garrett and I arrive at a final concept I need to start ordering fabrics and materials as fast as possible so I can get them in time to create the costumes.
People often comment on how fun it must be to go shopping for work. While it is always really exciting, it’s not exactly a relaxing day of getting my Nordstrom on.
Step 5: Making the First Cuts
Some costumes involve a basic pattern I improvise on, while others are completely self designed on the dress form. Generally, I try and think of a costume from top to bottom: moving from hair to blouses to pants or skirts. Also, if there’s an element of a costume that is needed for rehearsal, I focus on that first. A good example of this is the bowler hats and suit jackets in Sarah’s most recent work, “Son of Man.” They needed to learn complex movements with those items and couldn’t wait long for me to get them finished.
Step 6: First Dress Rehearsal
First dress for me is a lot like opening night for dancers–it’s when I discover if my work hits the mark or falls short. Sometimes, I have a lot of notes to work on and other times only a few.
Step 7: “Load-In” at the Theatre
My final step before a performance is load-in day at the theatre. This is the day that I pack all of the different costume elements into my car and drive them from the studio to the theater. Then, I set up all of the costumes, accessories and other elements on giant rolling racks organized by dancer in each dressing room. It is my personal final deadline and the moment that I start running the show rather than building it.
Step 8: Performance
Once a performance opens, I’m able to focus solely on the needs of the stage. Did a seam rip in the middle of a scene? Do we need some unexpected on-the-fly adjustments? I’ve definitely done things like reattach a ripped gusset in the moments between a dancer’s exit and re-entrance onto the stage. I love the focus of this time since it counterbalances all the second guessing required in my earlier design process.
Next week, Behind the Seams will explore accessories and details that make Rachael’s designs truly pop. We’ll also talk to collaborating visual artists, Tom Varani and Andrea Pliner, about their work on Marie’s custom masks.