When the Guthrie Theater heard the buzz around our Drag Story Hour series in June, they reached out to say it was producing a drag-inspired show this summer. “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” now on stage at the Guthrie, tells the tale of an Elvis-impersonator-turned-drag-queen complete with bedazzled outfits and costume changes galore.
Library guest blogger and Guthrie staff member Kaitlin Schlick recently sat down with Samantha Haddow, the Guthrie’s costume crafts artisan, to learn the ins and outs of her job and how every day is a mixed bag (at times, filled with sequins). Following the Q&A, check out a book list on the art of costume design, curated by Library staff members.
By Guest Blogger Kaitlin Schlick, Guthrie Theater
Kaitlin Schlick: “Costume crafts” isn’t exactly a well-known term outside the theater industry.
How would you define it?
Samantha Haddow: Costume crafts encompasses all accessories such as hats, shoes, gloves, masks, armor or any number of oddball things to needed complete a character’s look.
KS: It sounds like a niche field. How did you wind up doing costume crafts as a career?
SH: I have a Master’s degree in Costume Design, but my interest in crafts started when one of my undergraduate college professors crammed everything about crafts into one catchall semester. I absolutely fell in love with it. After that, I took every opportunity to learn more because you need a large toolkit of skills to make this a career. Most of what I do is fabric-based, but my skill set includes patterning, soldering, carpentry, millinery, painting, dyeing, leather work and more. Getting a formal education was my path, but you don’t necessarily need a degree to work in crafts. You just need to jump in and start building your skills.
KS: How do you execute a costume designer’s vision from sketch to stage?
SH: So much depends on the show, the designer and the costume designs. Period shows are relatively straightforward because there is a tried-and-true way to make an Elizabethan hat. I start by asking lots of questions: What color should it be? What materials? What season is it? Should I use wool or straw? The majority of my time is spent finding the best materials for the craft. It’s all about trial and error.
KS: How and when does the handoff from costumes to wardrobe happen?
SH: The costume shop is in charge of creating the costumes and executing the aesthetic and functional notes that happen during technical rehearsals and previews. Once a show officially opens, the wardrobe team takes over. They maintain the integrity and look of everything costume-related throughout the run of the show, including crafts. Maintenance is predictable for everyday things like shoes, belts or hats. But for more unusual items, we troubleshoot in advance by thinking about what could go wrong and how we might fix it.
KS: Do you collaborate with the costume shop often?
SH: It depends on projects, workloads and skill sets. I’m the sole painter, dyer and accessory maker in the shop. Surface design on fabrics start with me to paint and dye, and then I’ll hand it off that yardage to the costume shop to construct the garment. Belts and military regalia are probably the most common collaborations. I’ll create belts, medals or insignias, and then we’ll work together to figure out how to best attach them to the costume. I also work closely with our wig department to ensure hats stay on heads without damaging the hairstyle.
KS: There must be an abundance of crafts for a costume-heavy show like Georgia McBride. Any clues about what you’ve been making?
SH: There are a lot of costume crafts in this show because drag is more costume than clothing. For example, we made a giant heart sandwich board that goes from neck to knees and makes the actor look like Cupid. I also worked on a costume that looks like a tiny leprechaun carrying a woman on his shoulders. Our costume draper figured out the body structure, and I created the head of the leprechaun. Together, we figured out how to best attach them to the costume and make it work. One of my favorite pieces is a sandcastle headdress crafted from crosslinked polyethylene, sawdust and glitter.
KS: Cupid and leprechauns? Sounds like you’re having a blast.
SH: Georgia McBride is such an exciting project. I was stoked to learn that the costume designer [Patrick Holt] performs drag himself, which meant the designs were coming from his experience – we were not reinventing the wheel. I also occasionally work with local drag and burlesque performers outside of my work at the Guthrie, so it was great to see these worlds collide.
KS: What is the most challenging aspect of costume crafts?
SH: The skills, materials and techniques are ever-evolving, so I’m always taking classes and doing research to improve my skills. Just because we created something one way doesn’t mean we’ll make it the same way again. Dyeing is, by far, the most quickly evolving craft as we discover new pigments or chemicals that better bond the dye to the fabric. Time management is also a big challenge. Shows have hard deadlines, so I need to stay on track and avoid causing a domino effect that could prevent things from being ready. Once we start tech rehearsals, we often find that some crafts don’t work and they may get cut completely. A hat brim could create too much shadow under lighting or something might be distracting to an actor. But that’s the nature of my job. You just don’t know how things will work until you get them onstage.
KS: What happens to the crafts when the show closes?
SH: Almost everything goes to Costume Rentals, the Guthrie’s offsite costume warehouse where we store and rent costumes. Bigger items that are tough to store, like My Fair Lady hats, are displayed at the Guthrie. They’re great conversation pieces during our building tours.
KS: Sandcastle headdresses aside, what’s the best part of your job?
SH: The research and development is my favorite part of the process, and millinery [hat making] is hands down my favorite skill. I’ve been doing this at the Guthrie for nine years (over 15 years professionally), and I still love figuring out something new and building on the old. Every show is different and offers a new challenge. So even though I’m using the same skills, there are always new actors, new designers and new crafts to discover and create.
The Legend of Georgia McBride is playing now through August 26 at the Guthrie Theater. To learn more and purchase tickets, visit guthrietheater.org.
Kaitlin Schlick is a marketing manager at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. As resident media maven, she stays highly caffeinated so she can keep up with all things email, social and web.
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When the Guthrie Theater heard about the buzz surrounding our Drag Story Hour series in June, they approached us to create a book list for its current play, “The Legend of Georgia McBride.” The critically acclaimed show, which tells the tale of an Elvis-impersonator-turned-drag-queen, features bedazzled outfits, costume changes galore, and ample amounts of fun. This list celebrates the play and the amazing costumes that were created for it by the Guthrie’s master costume artisan Samantha Haddow.