Between starting uni in 1992, and finishing my first year of teaching in 1996, I joined a local amateur opera company as wardrobe assistant [and later Maitresse lol]. [No, not mattress, don’t be rude…]
This was purely voluntary, as I’d long nurtured a fantasy of working in costuming. A pal joined up as a singer, and I asked her to see if they needed any help with costumes. And that was that.
The company put on one major show a year,with a full chorus of a bout 60, and often a smaller summer show, with a much smaller cast of 6-10. Budget was laughably small, particularly for the chorus, and this also influenced the choice of operas: Aida or Turandot were generally considered beyond the budgetary pale.
So they got to be peasants. Again and again.
Not peasants, just slaves. Very clean ones though…
I found that the dirctor and I had a very similar approach to visualising the production- we both loved art, and used images from paintings to get the ideas across to the cast. I usually made a mood board to prop up in the rehearsal room so they could start to absorb the designs early on. I ended up with quite a nice collection of [largelyV&A] costume and art postcards.
Loads of these enthusiastic amateurs were, or had been, teachers, and of course we’re an opiniated lot. Dress rehearsal time always produced quite a lot of temperamental behaviour [not from the principals] as much-loved middle-aged perms, M&S shoes, anachronistic costume jewellery and terrible ginger toupees tried to get past me onto the stage.
I’m a firm believer in getting tops and tails right, ie hair/hat and shoes- I think you can get away with sheets/blankets/curtains in between, but modern shoes or a tight curly granny perm completely wreck the scene. They didn’t agree. You should have heard the fuss when we did ‘Carmen’ and we decided that the factory workers should be sweaty. I rustled up a spray bottle of glycerin and water sweat, and headed for the wings…I had to chase one shrieking harpy right round the backstage area twice before she got her [by now cold] sweaty armpits sorted out…
[to be continued]