Setting the "Sister Cities" scene: Costumes

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Like music, clothing is a good way to subtly clue in an audience about the time frame of a play.  Producer Nicole sat down with Caroline, KWLT's costumes manager and the costumer for Sister Cities, and talked about the process of costuming a show as well as the challenges inherent in a period piece where the period is well within living memory.

Caroline McLachlan Darling attended her first KWLT show in 2012, and by 2013 had become a volunteer with the theatre and their productions. Caroline has been the lead costumer on four different KWLT productions and has assisted on numerous others; she met the director of Sister Cities, Adrienne Dandy, when Adrienne was the lead costumer on The Merchant of Venice and Caroline assisted her.

Caroline finished her undergrad in theatre studies and at that time decided to focus on costuming. Her main motivation was because she felt that as a costumer she wouldn’t have to look a certain way to be a part of a show. As an example, to be an actor in a show you need to make a name for yourself, schmooze the right people and you are generally up against many other actors for the same parts. However, as a costume designer you are the one that is in demand, directors are seeking you out because your work speaks for itself and the competition in costuming is also less severe. 

Another reason Caroline loves to costume a show is because she feels that the clothes make the people. She loves creating a character and helping the actor/actress become the character and get deeper into their role through her work. Specifically, with sister Cities Caroline was very excited to do the costuming because the characters are such deep rich people. All the characters are involved characters with a lot of meat in the text to allow them to be specific individuals. 

Caroline started by attending several rehearsals, so she could see the way the actors themselves were playing the roles. She uses the example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: although Buffy was the same character in both the movie and the TV show it was clear that the two actresses portraying that character were making the character their own. Caroline says that a costumer knows this and therefore would not dress the two different actresses in the same clothing even in the same role. After seeing first hand what the actresses in Sister Cities were doing with the roles she was able to use this information and the information she knows about fashion form 2006 to being creating the looks for each character. 

CJ Cregg from The West Wing.  Photo via Wikia.For Baltimore who is a university student, Caroline used her own past as inspiration as she too was in University in 2006. Baltimore has a loose Bohemian style of clothing with an influx of India. Her outfits have fitted tops with billowy bottoms. Austin’s look is timeless, she has not been out much, so her clothing has not changed too drastically since University. Caroline designed Austin’s look with this and comfort in mind. For Carolina, the inspiration came from outfits modelled after CJ from the West Wing, which was a show that aired in 2006. For Dallas, there is a reference in the play that describes her as from head to toe in Ann Taylor, so Caroline & Adrienne used the Ann Taylor Look Book from 2006 to get inspiration for her. 

Costuming characters from such a recent past has both positive opportunities and challenges Carline says. The positive is that most of the items she was looking for had already been donated to thrift stores, so they were easy to find and more readily available than a period piece from an earlier time. Caroline’s main goal when sourcing items was that she wanted people to think to themselves, hey I remember wearing something like that in 2006.

Three of the Sister Cities actors in costumes that show their distinct personalities.  Photo credit: Josh Hoey.One of the challenges though was that there are not any articles of clothing that are provably from 2006. Some looks like leggings and sweaters she knew were not from that era but as she explains, most clothing has a 5-10-year wearable shelf life. Everything people were wearing in 2006 was not necessarily from that year. People tend to have clothing on for several years and could easily still be wearing an item they had from the late nineties or early 2000s in 2006. Along with this, Caroline also had to work within the physical limitations of the actors based on what their characters were doing in the play. For example, if a character needs to tuck something in as a stage direction in a scene then that character cannot be wearing a dress and similarly if the actor needs to sit cross legged on the floor in a scene then she wouldn’t likely be wearing a skirt. Caroline also takes into consideration how quickly the actress would need to change in and out of their costume and how wearable it is over several nights of the show. 

With all this in mind and Caroline’s great expertise we are all very excited to see the specific look she has come up with for the women in Sister Cities. Caroline says that costuming is a lot of work and a lot of effort, but it is all worth it and wonderful to see the clothing come alive on stage.