3. ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ – an inside look at creating costumes at TR2

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As part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth bloggers’ scheme, I was invited to the wardrobe department at TR2, the theatre’s production and learning centre. We were shown around by Delia, the head of wardrobe, and we got to learn all sorts of things about how, where and why costumes are made, how much it costs, and even how to create realistic looking sick on clothes!

We were welcomed into the wardrobe workshop space, which was full of dummies wearing costumes, which I definitely mistook for real people a few times! Delia showed us some costumes from a production of Rebecca, which was at Theatre Royal Plymouth a couple of years ago, and explained that the costume budgets on shows vary hugely – from around £500 for small, local productions, up to £250,000 for high profile tours of well known musicals. On expensive shows just one garment can cost £1000 to make, especially when fabrics have to be made and printed specifically for a particular character in a particular show. Delia also explained that to work in wardrobe you have to be an all rounder – while individuals have their specialisms, they all need to be prepared to do a bit of everything – including doing the laundry, and even acting as a stand in dresser for performances at the theatre.

Next we went to the costume store: an enormous room full of thousands of garments. While the aisles and rails look crammed full and impossible to trawl through, the room is impeccably organised to make it easy to find any particular piece of costume required. Delia told us that they often hire out costumes to other organisations in the wider community, and that some garments are reused many times in different shows. She described them as ‘treasures I can reuse’, which I thought was a lovely way of putting it, because many of the pieces I saw were so versatile, and definitely ‘treasures’.

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We returned to the wardrobe workshop and Delia showed us some techniques to create special effects on fabric (her own specialism). She emphasised the attention to detail – like when creating fake mud to make clothes look dirty, she has to consider where the production is set, because the colour of mud in Yorkshire, for example, is quite different from the colour of Cornish mud! She used a dirty down spray to customise a pristine white T shirt, and showed us how to create fake blood by using a different spray, and also showed us some fake sick which was… interesting! She told us how different textures can be created using different substances, and stated that ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ due to the sheer amount of things it can be used to make! It was also interesting to find out that experimentation is a key part of creating the correct colour or texture, and that a lot of the wardrobe team’s work is trial and error.

Finally, we got the chance to have a go at creating some fake embroidery. This involved creating a piping bag full of acrylic paint and tracing over a print – it was harder than it sounds! The trick is to create a really small hole for the paint to come out of to maximise the precision when tracing over the lines. Then we filled in the gaps with paint and a brush which was much easier… GCSE art seems a long time ago! It was a really interesting and surprisingly therapeutic task to do and it certainly made us all be quiet for a while!

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Despite knowing very little about the business beforehand, I loved learning so much about the wardrobe department and costume making at TR2. I never realised how much detail goes into the costumes you see on stage, and the size of the costume store was simply immense. I’d like to thank Delia for showing us around and for being so helpful – I have a newfound appreciation for all that the wardrobe team do, as well as a newfound appreciation for PVA glue.

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