Puttin’ on the Ritz in Transylvania

They say that the clothes do not make the man. But when it comes to theatre, the costumes definitely make the man…or the monster in the case of Young Frankenstein. Costumes at the Omaha Community Playhouse are often praised and revered, but rarely do audience members get to hear from the masterminds behind the designs. Lydia Dawson, costume designer of Young Frankenstein, gives an insider’s look into the world of Transylvania fashion.

Inspiration – from the screen to the stage
Plays are commonly based off of movies and vice versa. In the instance of Young Frankenstein, the Mel Brooks’ masterpiece was on the big screen before the Great White Way.

“It’s harder designing costumes for a musical based on a movie because the audience is going to have expectations of what some of the characters are supposed to look like,” said Lydia. “You want to stay true to the original since it’s what people know and love but you also want to make the production your own design. The main characters like Frederick, Inga, Frau and Kemp I kept fairly close to their movie counterparts. The other characters, like Ziggy, Elizabeth and all the different ensemble characters, I pulled from various research I have been collecting for about a year now. I based the villagers off Romanian villagers but I also used different cultures for inspiration as well, such as Indian. Elizabeth’s entourage members were based off existing 1930s garments and patterns and photos of actual salon workers from the 30s. Inspiration for Inga’s ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’ costume comes directly from an existing garment from the 30s, along with a period trim technique used during the depression.”  
Spencer Williams as Igor, Ablan Roblin as Dr. Frankenstein and Kirstin Kluver as Inga
Ideas come ALIVE!
It took 15 people and hundreds of hours since April to create the approximately 150 costumes for the show. However, Lydia began working on the show long before April.

“I make a spreadsheet (we call it a costume plot) of which character is in which scene,” said Lydia. “This helps me keep track of each of the actors and their costume needs. After I have my costume plot, I start to gather research. I actually began collecting research a year ago when I first found out I’d be designing Young Frankenstein. Once I have my research, I can start my renderings, which are like blueprints for the costume shop to build the costumes from. Once the actors are cast, we can get to work cutting and sewing and building all the various costumes.”

Monstrous Challenges
Every show comes with its own unique set of challenges. Costume challenges for Young Frankenstein range from quick changes to prosthetics to tap dancing monsters.

“Fast changes were something we’ve paid a lot of attention to from the beginning for this production,” said Lydia “The first act is full of lightning fast changes in location and that meant the actors had mere seconds to go from one character to another. We have quick-rigged a majority of the costumes so that we can easily pull off and put on their shirts, pants, lab coats, etc. We also have an amazing Wardrobe Supervisor in Sarah Schnitzer that makes all those crazy fast changes happen.

“[Ryan Pivonka who plays the monster] wears a forehead prosthetic plus several other smaller pieces,” said Lydia. “We spray the makeup on Ryan’s entire head plus his neck, his hands and up his arms.  We’re using a special makeup formulated for the airbrush that will (hopefully) not sweat off as Ryan lumbers and dances across the stage.  

“The craftsperson who crafted the monster masks and boots, Christianne Bakewell, had to deal with a few technical problems as rehearsals went on,” said Lydia. “The monster boots that the ensemble wear during ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ are actually slipcovers that fit over their tap shoes to resemble the monster’s tall boots. They’re made out of a material called Warbla which we also used during last year’s The Wizard of Oz for the Tin Man’s costume. It involves heating up a plastic-like material and then molding it into the shape you want. She molded it into the shape of the boot and then attached Velcro to both the Warbla and the tap shoe so that they could easily put them on and off. She also created black spandex slipcovers to fit over the Warbla shell so that it would look like the actual boots. As rehearsals went on and the actor’s began rehearsing with their tap shoes and the slipcovers, issues would come up but Christianne was able to troubleshoot the problems as they came up.”
Kirstin Kluver, Costume Designer Lydia Dawson, Ablan Roblin and Spencer Williams
After the Final Bow
After Young Frankenstein closes, the costumes will be washed and dry cleaned and then stored at our costume storage facility. The costumes may be used again in future productions or possibly even rented by another theatre that is producing the show. Even after the costumes are put away, Lydia will no doubt remember her favorite pieces.

“I really love the horses; our craftsperson Trish Place did an amazing job of taking a couple of cheap rubber horse masks and making them look really extraordinary and professional,” said Lydia. “I also love Elizabeth’s Puttin’ On the Ritz and Deep Love costumes. The silver sequins were hard to cut and even harder for my stitchers to sew but the end result is definitely worth it.”

Don’t miss Young Frankenstein, May 30-June 29, 2014 in the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre. Tickets are $40 for adults and $24 for students. For groups of 12 or more, adult tickets are $29 and student tickets are $18. On Wednesday, June 4, tickets will be $10 for that evening’s production starting at 4 p.m. at the Box Office. For tickets, visit the OCP Box Office, call (402) 553-0800 or click here.

No comments: