Crafting Theatre, Part 15: Costume
Although putting together this show has been both incredibly challenging and incredibly fun, the most complicated and most enjoyable part of it all has been the costuming.
I have always loved the idea of costuming. And honestly, this aspect is – for me – an indicator of how far I’ve come in show creating. For the first show I wrote and produced, I bought a dress at Macy’s and a kimono from an opera company I had performed with in Middlebury. For the second show, it was the racks at Value Village. And even though the costumes were all right (and looking back, I’m impressed I managed that well considering I had no idea what I was doing), this year, eight years after my first solo show, I really did the costume (costumes!!) right.
This show explores the life of Deanna Durbin, at different ages. For this to work with different costume pieces, and to not feel awkward or take up time with costume changes, I needed a dress to wear as a base costume, and other pieces to add or remove throughout. I didn’t want to wear black (doesn’t ‘pop’ onstage), or red (more Piaf than Deanna), and dark blue wouldn’t work with some of the other costume pieces I had in mind. Anyway, here is the costume I built:
BASE COSTUME: This is for adult Deanna to wear, and is the base costume for the show. I found a bright green dress at a vintage-style store in Edmonton (as in, the store sells newly-made vintage looks). It isn’t anything I would glance at usually, but the top rushing dates the look to the 1950/early 60s, and looks like a costume and not just a dress one happens to be wearing onstage. I paired this with a pair of vintage-style shoes that a friend of mine spotted at a charity shop in Leeds. It’s a great base look, and the green reads well onstage. I tracked down the dress to a company in the UK, and ordered a second one online, as a backup.
ENTRANCE COSTUME: To start the show, I managed to dig out that opera kimono from a duffel bag in my sister’s basement. Who knew it was even still around?! Anyway, it’s a bit musty but it’s the perfect initial look and the purple and yellow of the kimono contrasts well with the green dress. Also, it’s a nod to my first show, and that’s kind of neat.
YOUNG DEANNA COSTUME: This look is taken directly from the movie ‘100 Men and a Girl’. Deanna wears a cute bolero jacket with a Peter-Pan collar. Which I actually found (!!) in that Edmonton shop. I bought one in blue at the shop, and two more in black online. That gives me two looks for Young Deanna. Also, the bolero covers up the dress rushing and makes it look like a plain dress. On one of the bolero jackets, I pinned a corsage I made, almost an exact replica of the corsage she wore to the 1938 Academy Awards. To go with this, I added a hat that I made by cutting up a hat I had found in a thrift shop, and sewed on a feather I had left over from 2014, when I made the fascinator for my Sophie Tucker show.
WARTIME DEANNA COSTUME: When I did my Vera Lynn show in 2017, I had bought a real Woman’s Air Force jacket at an Army Surplus store in Toronto. It turned out to be far too hot to wear for an hour onstage, but it would work well for a 5-minute scene in this show. I had it shortened so it wouldn’t cut the visual lines of the dress, and paired it with a navy cap I had bought at the same time. I also made a ‘Deanna Durbin’ army insignia, by sewing golden trim on a piece of material, and then ironing embroidered initials on the material.
OLDER DEANNA COSTUME: This one I’m only wearing briefly, but it was still complicated to put together. It started with a bolero coat that my sister had bought to wear at her wedding and was kind enough to donate to the ‘Deanna Durbin’ cause. I made another corsage and added it to the coat for a more vintage look (also, I love corsages…) I paired that with gloves I found at the Edmonton store (they were vintage-style, but had a silver cell-phone finger panel, which I needed to carefully cut off). I also needed a sparkly engagement ring, which I ordered off Amazon. To top it all off (literally), I ordered a hat from China, which looks 1940s style and pulls the look together well.
And those are the costumes! They all fit (whew!), they all look gorgeous, and there are only a few more elements to pull together before the show opens next week…