A closer look at the UD costume shop

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The costume shop allows student workers to learn how to build clothes under the instruction of professional costume designer and Associate Professor Susan Cox. Photo by Kaity Chaikowsky.

The drama department’s costume shop has a lot more than needles and thread. The student workers in the shop spend hours creating costumes with professional help to ensure that the costumes are a perfect match to the actor’s character portrayal.

“[The process] starts with the actors, and finding how the actor’s costume fits into the play,” freshman English major Mary-Catherine Scarlett said. “It’s my job to make those costumes happen.”

The student workers learn how to sew alongside Associate Professor Susan Cox, a professional draper and manager and costume designer for the University of Dallas Mainstage productions.  

Cox begins designing the costumes immediately after the play is announced, usually several months before the show will run. Considered a professional by the student workers, Cox has worked on costumes for large productions such as “Where the Wild Things Are,” the “Muppets,” and “Bear in the Big Blue House.” She has  been harnessing her creativity since last semester to put forth the best pieces for “Hamlet.”

In addition to Cox’s expertise, the drama department may hire a professional draper to provide plans for sewing the costume.

“The draper works with the designers,” senior drama major Ellen Rogers said. “The job of the draper is to take the two-dimensional design and figure out how to make that a three-dimensional piece.”

Once Cox and the draper have made the plans for the costumes, the student workers begin sewing.

“You might have a project that you work on every day, like paper-macheing the puppet heads or taking turns sewing the hems of a big cape,” Rogers said. “But on any given day, you’re being given a new project, and you’re not necessarily going to take that from start to finish and fully build something yourself.”

Cox keeps the workers busy with projects that must be completed quickly and efficiently before the show opens, teaching them new skills along the way.  

“Sometimes we build clothes from scratch,” Senior comparative literature major Bea Dowdy said. “We just mostly do the alterations. We have a list of things that need to be done.”

Dowdy added that working with costumes has helped her appreciate each individual human body and see beauty in three dimensions, which applies to how the costumes facilitate the portrayal of each character.

The costumes for “Hamlet” are, for the most part, modern. The soldiers are fitted in modern army uniforms and the men in the play wear business suits for much of the play.

Hamlet, however, dresses differently than the other characters as a means of rhetoric and insight into his character. Instead of professional suit-and-tie, Hamlet is seen most often in black jeans, a black t-shirt and a black leather jacket. This “grunge” look captivates the character’s madness in contrast to the men in three-piece suits around him.

Scarlett said that seeing her hard work on opening night complementing the characters was rewarding and made the play more enjoyable.

“It was a completely different perspective on the costumes,” Scarlett said. “I was watching the actors, these people I had watched come in for the past few months for fittings, transformed into the characters in ‘Hamlet.’”

The workers also said that the costumes are not meant to receive the most attention in the show, but rather to aid the actor in telling their story. Rogers explained that if the audience comes out of the show and only talks about the costumes, then the costume shop has not done its job.

The workers added that they love the community in the drama department and how the costume shop contributes to it, saying that the workers from the costume and scene shop often visit each other to see the progress and obtain a vision of how the whole show will come together.

“I appreciated ‘Hamlet’ way more because I was a part of the process,” Scarlett said. “I think it’s a privilege to work here.”

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