This month and next, go behind the scenes with our Costume Director, Corinna Bohren, as she guides us through the construction of one of the fabulous creations that will be worn by the bawdy social climber Kitty Packard (Susannah Biller) this March in Dinner at Eight.
From the Desk of Corinna Bohren, Costume Director:
Clothing is an expression of who we are as a culture and as individuals. Costume design is the art of communicating that to your audience. With this in mind, Costume Designer Victoria Tzykun (or Vita) started her process by extensively researching not only the fashions, and textiles of 1931, but also the emotional, political, and financial history of the time and specifically the demographic in Dinner at Eight.
One of the first steps in taking the research from intangibility to reality is to swatch a show. This involves going to dozens of fabric stores (we generally use the NYC garment district), taking small pieces of textiles that are related to the character concepts, and attaching them to a card with all of the information needed to purchase them if they are selected later. This includes the merchant name, the price, the width, the fiber content, and amount of yardage available. These swatch cards are then arranged onto rings by character. The next step is for Vita to select which of these will actually be used in the production.
Each production has what we call a “Show Bible” associated with it, and Dinner at Eight is no different. This is a binder that has all of the casting, schedule, purchasing, materials, measurements, and renderings collected in one place. For Dinner at Eight most of the characters have multiple outfits that we are custom building. While the designs are based off of real items, we cannot put 80 year old pieces on stage and expect them to survive the intense workout that an opera singer puts their costume through. Therefore, we build as much as possible.
Kitty has the most over-the-top looks in this production. She will be covered in yards of rhinestones, ruffles, and feathers–all in shades of pink. When Vita and I were buying the fabric in New York City, the question for anything we looked at regarding Kitty was, “Is this obnoxious enough?” I think that we found an adequate balance between elegance and opulence. In the end, her second look will be composed of 36 yards of sheer fabrics layered, gathered, and poofed.
The costume shop at Minnesota Opera has three teams that manufacture the costumes. Each team is assigned certain singers so that they can get to know the shape of that person, and their needs as an artist and character. Due to the specific nature of the garments built for our singers we get to create our own patterns. You can’t go to JoAnns and purchase the directions. Once a team gets the designs, fabrics, and measurements they set about prepping a mannequin to mimic the dimensions of the artist. Using the mannequin the draper creates the rendering in a cheaper version of the final fabric. This allows Vita to ensure that the lines are where she wants them, the draper can check the fit and pattern, and the singer can give feedback on their needs all before we have cut into the pricey materials. At this point Vita and the draper are still talking about the specific type of ruffles, where they will be placed, and how many layers of the sheer materials will be used for the best end result. More is more with Kitty, and I think we are off to a good start.
For more info about Dinner at Eight, or to buy tickets, please visit the Dinner at Eight homepage here.