The Costume Department of Royal National Theatre

Costume Department

Royal National Theatre

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Members of Cooltan Arts Centre Visit

November 2009

Sasha Dee

Cooltan has a genius Fashion and Textile tutor in Lydia Honeybunch who is as sweet as her name suggests and her mother Lizzy Honeybunch who once worked as textile designer tutor at the Cooltan as well. Combination of these two dynamic persons gave a rare access to a visit to the Cooltan Crowd to the Costume Department of the Royal National Theatre.

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A team of fifteen strong participants lead by the administrative staff Clara Jones.

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The team comprised of mainly those who learn to create various effects in textile department and participants in various fashion shows organised at various places by Lydia in London, had a rare peep to into the costume department of the National Theatre thrill themselves.

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Those who went to see plays at the National Theatre or anywhere perhaps do not know that each show is usually supported by an invisible force of talented people with extreme hard work that require numerous talents and understanding and many inter-personal skills.  Without a strong department however great the script may be or the actors acting out that play will not stand.  Costume Department is an integral part of the play production.

All the Cooltan visitors were astounded to find this truth from the beginning of their visit to the end of their visit.

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When they learned some of the facts about the demands were made by a play production their excitement went on buzzing for a long time.

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Following are some of the things that the Costume Department did to make a theatre visit a memorable for the audience:

1)      A twelve-meter broad silk wings for a play called Coram Boy and ten meter long Lobster for the play “Market Boy.

2)      On average the department produces costumes for twenty-two shows i.e.more than one shows per moth.

3)      One play called “The Hour We Knew Nothing…” had 470 costumes. In the 90 minutes shows there was a costume change every 12 seconds and a good team helped the artists to keep the time of changing the dress.

4)      There is an ever growing footwear stock which, have more than 5,000 pairs.  Many are custom made and many are period shoes and boots.

5)      A stock Coordinator walks almost 522 miles to maintain the stock.

6)      At present there is 24,000 square feet storage within the complex of the National Theatre rather cramped place and not very quickly accessible to the wings of the theatres of NT.

7)      The buyers of the NT travel more than 1,000 miles in search of right fabric or costume.

8)      For certain shows life like props are produced. “Jerry Springer Show used about 1,600 ostrich fetchers for fans.

The Costume Department have following specialised areas:

Costume Supervisors: They are at a time three or four in the department. They co-ordinate everything in the costume department and all the requirements for the show. They are involved in the talk of the production with producer, directors, financiers etc. They are responsible for all contacts with all who are related to costume making.

Footwear Co-ordinator: The person responsible for creating the footwear according to the need of the show and coordinate with the Costume Supervisor. The personnel maintain the huge and ever-growing stock.

Costume Props: The definition of costume props is everything “worn” by an actor. The department is responsible for the production and adaptations of hats, jewellery costumes etc. there is a regular team who works sewing and other things needs to be done.

Costume Workshop: In this department all the required costumed are made for all the actors on the stage.  The department has specialised tailoring people who look after the male and female costumes and they do all the work once the designing is selected. The staffs often have only four or five weeks to prepare the costumes ready for the first rehearsal. Department also stand ready to meet any eventuality during the show time.

Buyers: A buyer’s role is to purchase goods in respect of the costumes and accessories for all the productions. The buyers are part of the initial talk once a play has been decided to produce. Buyers have a library of catalogues and names of suppliers that includes the list of from many European countries. The department has deep understanding of textile and costume history.

Hire Department: After the run of the show is finished the costumes are sent to the Hire Department. This department rents other play producers or individuals according to their needs. This department also stores and rents all the accessories.  Their stock is every year growing up.  Their collection of costumes is 7,500 at present.

Administrator: This department mainly deals with the money matters and communication within the inter-departments, with producers, actors and almost who have to deal with the costumes. It also looks after the smooth running of all departments associated to the costumes and accessories. This department deals with all correspondence and keep the records of every thing happened in the costumes.

Dye Room: In this department Dying, printing, and many other things like effects on the costumes like mud and stains on the costumes of the rough characters etc also accessories like jewellery real or fake.

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Wig and Make Up Department: This department deals with both production and maintenance of the wigs. This also deals with facial make up and other changes needed for the characters in the play.

Wardrobe Departments:  There are three wardrobe departments each facilitating the needs of each of the three theatres of the National Theatres. They take responsibilities of the costumes once the play comes on the stage of rehearsal and look after it. Once the play has come to its running the end the wardrobe department clans it to mint condition and then send it to the Hire Department.

The Cooltan participants was such fortune that they had close look at all the above departments in action from very close quarters and ask questions to the people who were busy in their work and answered so patiently.

They had further fortune when one young worker with assistant dresser showed how quickly she could change dress and change her character from youth to old age. Here the stripping of the dress was done in half minute and putting on other dress took another half minute.  This was done because the dresses had magnetic buttons and Velcro joints.

The trip lasted about three hours and every participant was very grateful to all the members of the Costume Department of the National Theatre for giving them a memorable experience.

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The staff of Royal Nathional Theatre

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