How TDF's Costume Collection works with out-of-state designers
Earlier this year, designer Joe Kucharski had to costume a production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia
in a hurry. "I was to just show up for a week, do fittings, immediately go into tech, and leave," he recalls, and since the show was being produced at Maryland's Washington College, he knew the school's modest theatre department couldn't necessarily provide him with outfits for the 19th-century poets and scholars roaming through Stoppard's play.
That's why Kucharski called TDF's Costume Collection
, a massive facility in Astoria that rents professional costumes to non-profit and small-scale productions. And while New York-based customers can fetch clothes and accessories themselves, the Collection also ships pieces
anywhere in the country. That means designers from Washington College to Washington State can find a doublet or a petticoat in a pinch.
The out-of-towners especially rely on Debbi Hobson, the Costume Collection's Staff Designer. A freelance designer and instructor herself, she chats with artists about what their productions need, then suggests items from the Collection's stock.
"Usually they send me what they've already pulled and their research, and I try to make what we have work into what they've already created as an overall design aesthetic," she says.
Occasionally she gets to pull entire shows, such as the current production of A Christmas Carol
at Atlantic Stage in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
However, no matter how much she contributes, Hobson calls what she does more curating than designing: "I am pulling from existing garments using someone else’s vision," she says, meaning the production's official designers always lead the artistic conversation, no matter where they're located.
For designers like Debra Anderson, from Vermont's Opera Company of Middlebury, access to Hobson and the Collection means using high-grade costumes without obliterating her budget. "You can't go to a thrift store and find period pieces," she says. "If it's period, I definitely go right to them. They are just as great if you just need to rent three or four things. And it's easy to send things back and try again."
To that end, Anderson designed an entire 2009 production of The Barber of Seville
using Collection items, and she also rented period costumes for La Rondine
in 2011 and selected men's suits for The Italian Girl in Algiers
earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Kucharski, who is now an assistant professor of theatre at Baylor University, where he used the Collection for a production of Into the Woods
this fall, stresses that the Collection is an educational boon for student designers and performers. (The costume stock includes pieces from the Metropolitan Opera and dozens of Broadway shows, among many other professional outlets.)
"You're seeing world-class craftsmanship on a university budget," Kucharski says. "It was a great experience for my students in the costume shop to see that level of craftsmanship and detail, and for the performance majors to be able to wear that quality of material to help them embody the character."
Want more info on out-of-town rentals from the Costume Collection? Click here.
Martha Wade Steketee is the general editor of Chance Magazine
Arcadia photo by Paul Gilespie. The Italian Girl in Algiers photo courtesy of Opera Company of Middlebury.