Friday, September 26, 2014

Musicals / What's On / Industry News


We are drawing very close to the Opening Night and a fortnight ago, we had the pleasure of catching up with Carol Humphrey, who is heading up the costume team for CLOC’s exciting production of LEGALLY BLONDE

Here’s what Carol had to share with us...

Hal Leonard Australia (HLA): So Carol, how long have you worked as part of the CLOC family?

CAROL: Me, personally - thirteen years. 

HLA: What was the first show you did with them?

CAROL: Chicago.

HLA: Were you leading the costume team then?

CAROL: No, no… I was still working then, and so I only just did the Saturday sewing and took a little home with me. Then when I retired, I took on more. I do the ticketing now too.

HLA: So you are very busy indeed. To date, what do you think would be your favourite show to costume?

CAROL: Hmmmm – that’s a hard one… (Carol turns to seek suggestions from the group)… Apart from LEGALLY BLONDE of course… perhaps Phantom, I suppose. But it certainly had its challenges. Carlotta’s gowns were the most demanding to make. They were so heavy with so much fabric and it took us forever to get the right shape of the gowns – that real bell shape. In fact the costumes for Carlotta were so heavy that they ruined our dress-model! They stretched the body with the weight of the fabric, and we can’t get it back to its original shape!

HLA: How many costumes do you have to make for LEGALLY BLONDE?

CAROL: In total, we need to provide about 150 costumes. It was supposed to be a small show! We have a cast of 25, yep with 150 costumes between them.

HLA: Are you making all of them from scratch within your team?

CAROL: We’ve physically made 67. We haven’t had a lot actually in wardrobe from the period. We have a lot of costumes, from the 1950s and 60’s and earlier, but not many in this more modern period. SO, we’ve op-shopped a lot. Emily the designer has shopped a lot. It’s a great time to buy right now, and she’s got some great deals like on the men’s shoes and some of Elle’s court outfits.

HLA: What do you think is the biggest challenge of working on any show?

CAROL: Of any show, it would definitely be having enough people to do the sewing. We have had very large sewing groups in the past - for some big costume shows. At times in this one small sewing room, we’ve had17 or 18 people. I don’t usually do the coordinator role, but the lady who usually is the coordinator, is unavailable at the moment, so I am looking after the Saturday sewing bees and she will be assisting with dressing backstage. SO we all looked at this show and thought. This is going to be easy to costume, it’s a small show, we can take things out of wardrobe… and we said to our ladies “if you want to have a break, this’ll be the show to have a break from”… wrong! Wrong! Wrong! So there’ve been days like this on our main work day where as you can see, there aren’t many people here.

HLA: Do you think it is easier costuming a modern day show as opposed to a period musical?

CAROL: No, no. Each has their challenges. They’re different challenges, but it’s fun either way. There are fewer bustles. I am a little over bustles, but now, working on this show, I’ve over tracksuits too! I do think the 50s and 60s is probably the easier period to cater for. Cause I used to wear those dresses and I used to make them and it sort of comes as second nature to me.

HLA: How many weeks are required to get all the costumes ready?

CAROL: 12 weeks. Rehearsals started 12 weeks ago and we start sewing around that time. Not the planning thought – the planning with the director started much earlier. For instance, we’ve already started planning our next May show now, and this show hasn’t even opened yet.

HLA: So, tell us a little about your sewing team here.

CAROL: Well, Nancy has been on the working team here the longest. She is an ex-Melbourne Theatre Company costume person. She’s our main adviser. When we have a problem, we go to Nancy. “Make it happen” I’ve heard her say. “You just make it happen.” Then we have Lorna, Eva, Delwyn and myself. We all stared together about 13 years ago. Then we have Meridith and Isabelle. They’re quite recent. They’ve been with us for the last 2 shows. Meridith is here with us as she is doing the Melbourne Polytechnic course on costuming. Emily our designer is ex-Swinburn, which costume course has now in fact become the polytechnic course. So this is great experience for Meredith being here with us for this show. Apart from the group here today, we have a few others who are with us fro varying lengths of time. We usually have a Milliner’s Corner also, but there are not many hats for this show. We have about four of five people who just work on hats. We will be using them a lot for MARY POPPINS, no doubt. Our youngest member, Zoe, is nearly fifteen years old now. She’s part of our team, but is taking a break from this show. It is amazing. She is the daughter of friend of one of our costume people who’s not here today. One day she saw this other lady sewing (as some of us take things home) and she as keen to come along, she was like “Oh, can I come? Can I come and help do it too?” So we talked that through with our production coordinator, Sandy, and got the required permissions to make it happen. A couple of us have got ‘Working with Children’ certificates, so we can cover all those security aspects. So fifteen is our youngest member and Delwyn, Nancy and I fight each other for the position of who is the top of the tree, age-wise. We know Nancy turned 80 last year during our last show so you can imagine her wealth of experience. So we have everyone from 18 – 80!

HLA: So, CLOC has an amazing store of costumes. How is it managed?

CAROL: That is something that has been built up over years and years. We generally try and make or buy new stuff for the leads of each show, but a lot of our ensemble stuff we pull out of storage. It was a manual system up until about 3 years ago. Allan Paul runs it even today, but 3 years ago I entered every costume into the system. Every costume is labeled with a number and I put it into a database, so now he can print off receipts with details of which costumes are rented out. They’re grouped into period, style, sets, daywear etc and everything is labeled.

HLA: How do you maintain the costume store?

CAROL: Well, during the normal show time, there isn’t much time for maintenance, but Allan will put costumes aside that may need repairs and these will be addressed over the Christmas holiday time. He will do small stuff, but anything that requires more work will be given to one of the costume ladies.

HLA: So do you hire out to other theatre companies?

CAROL: Schools. A lot of schools and a few individuals. When someone hires from us, they receive a docket with all the details of hire. For example, the alterations can be made, that everything must be returned dry-cleaned after hire. Anything that is lost has to be reported, so we can make a replacement – especially if it is part of a set.

HLA: I imagine there would be quite a bit of wear and tear on the costumes.

CAROL: Yes – there is quite a bit. And there are to be no alterations made either. If there has to be alterations made, we ask that the hirer’s return the costumes to their original state before returning them (this doesn’t happen all the time unfortunately). Alan works fulltime elsewhere, so he is only here at the Costume Store every second Saturday, so there is a lot of work to be done in that short period of time. He does some at home, but either way, it is a very big job.

HLA: So there are a couple of costume tricks in the show. Is there anything you are able to share with us about that?

CAROL: It’s not that secret… Under-dressing is the main way to get around quick changes, like when Elle goes into the wardrobe at the end of the show. [Carol opens it up to the costume team – “What other secrets can we share, Ladies?”]
Oh, yes – there is one we can tell you (cause it’s out on the web already), but there is a quick change for Elle, when she buys the designer dress at the start. For that we use magnets right down the back of her dress, so you just pull it apart – simple! That’s the first time I think we’ve done that in a show. That said, for other situations, sometimes magnets don’t hold, depending on what the actor is doing, so there is no choice but to under-dress. But in this case, Elle has her back to the audience up until that point and she doesn’t move too much, so it’s pretty safe.

There is another quick change for Emmett also, but there is no real trick to that, he just changes onstage behind some screens.

HLA: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

CAROL: We had an Open Day here that was run by the City of Kingston Council, it was called “Open Studio” and people could come in for the day and have a look at the operation here and all that happens. We had people book in to come along on a Saturday and when they got here, we showed them around and all about set building and the costume creations. There was one Mum with her 15/16 year old daughter who was really excited, and she comes along and works when she can – it was exciting to see young people get so excited. Participating in a community event like that is always a nice thing to be part of.

It’s also nice to know that other companies are interest in what CLOC is doing. We like to work with and help other companies where we can. In the past, we have sent our Phantom costumes to companies in Cairns QLD, Orange NSW, Tasmania and New Zealand. Our Cats costumes too were hired out to New Zealand companies. A number of companies follow what shows CLOC does and flow on with the same show choices so that they can hire or buy the sets especially because we can’t store them all here. So that is always a nice arrangement knowing they have another life and are appreciated by many people.

Carol - Thank you to you and your team for giving us this wonderful insight into the CLOC's costume world.  Wishing you all the very best for a wonderful show season.  Here's till the next show!


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