Monday, 22 April 2013

Making The Sound of Music Costumes - Part 1 - How do you solve a problem like Maria?

So how do you solve a problem like Maria?

(Photographs by Peter Cook)
Ok - so the title is a bit overused, but I did have a problem with my Maria costume - if fact I had the same problem with all the costumes I was making for the LRVS 2013 Showcase! With three different musicals showcased on the same night by the same cast, I had to create over 200 costumes on a very tight budget and allowing for very quick character changes.

When the Directors told me they were including The Sound of Music in the showcase, I turned straight to the 1985 film with Julie Andrews for inspiration. I tracked down the DVD that I knew I had somewhere - it was lurking at the back of the film cupboard in our lounge with some other dusty gems that are not so appreciated by others in my family - such as Oklahoma and Disney’s Fantasia!

I tracked down loads of You Tube videos from other productions - including the West End show with Connie Fisher, Broadway and local productions. And I searched the internet for Sound of Music costume ideas - this was an eye opener - it is amazing how many people love dressing up in costumes from The Sound of Music. There are even conventions and parties where people compete for Best Costume - including carefully copied dresses from the film and traditional outfits such as lederhose and dirndl (Austrian bib breeches and gathered skirts for the uninitiated like me).

I started planning lots of outfits for Maria - when she sings on the Hills; meeting the Captain and his offspring "Seven children!"; the outfits from curtains; the wedding, the farewell concert....

After all the fun searching, you can imagine how I felt when I realised that although our cast would need a different costume for each of the 3 musicals in the showcase, it wouldn’t be possible to have multiple outfits for each character in each musical. I was gutted, although practicality soon kicked in!

So I needed just one outfit for Maria, which would need to work with each of the scenes she was going to be in. Although we were not performing the full show, we did need something that wouldn’t look out of place in the convent, and was ugly enough for when Maria first meets the Captain, but smart enough for her to wear as Mrs Von Trapp. It also had to give the impression of being made from curtain fabric and look a little like the Austrian national dress. No problem there then!

Luckily, for most of the musical, Maria doesn’t wear the tailored clothes that were fashionable in the 1930s - so I was able to come up with a traditional look. I searched eBay for Austrian outfits and clothes - I didn’t want a fancy dress look so I concentrated my search in the ladies clothing and vintage sections. I was horrified by the prices some of the items reached - it wasn’t uncommon to see dirndl style skirts from the 80s going for upwards of £30 and real vintage items were even higher.

I did manage to secure a reasonably priced dark green skirt and bolero with a blouse, which I hoped would work. However, while it would have been great for Maria after she married the Captain, it didn't look young enough for her straight out of the convent, so I resold the skirt and bolero, but hung onto the pale blue-green blouse which was a peasant style in a very pretty broderie anglaise fabric.

Kia as Maria ((Photographs by Peter Cook)
I eventually tracked down a lovely long tiered corduroy skirt in an autumn coloured floral print on a dark green background - although it was a 1970s Laura Ashley skirt, I could just image old fashioned curtains in this fabric and the green colour was typically Austrian.

Both of our Marias are fairly short, so the mid calf A-line skirt was far too long. I cut off the top tier and added an elasticated waist for easy change - which also gave it the full dirndl look I was after.

I used the fabric offcuts to create a bib for the front and back, which gave the dress a traditional feel without being obvious.

Dayna as Maria (Photographs by Peter Cook)

Luckily, the one outfit fitted both Dayna and Kia without the need for alterations. You have to agree with the Von Trapp children when they say "Your dress is the ugliest one I've ever seen" and I take my hat off to both girls for wearing it with such style. Our Marias were definitely not a problem.

(Photographs by Peter Cook)
So with some simple props, including a battered old cardboard suitcase that was my great grandmothers, a half size wooden guitar and a wide brim hat, Maria sets off to start her new life - but perhaps it is with some trepidation that she first meets the Captain!

As can be seen by these gorgeous photos, both girls played the part of Maria brilliantly - and take it from me, they sounded just as amazing as they looked. And I think they had great fun at rehearsals, especially running up and down the line of kids in Do Re Mi, trying to tap the right kid on the head for each note! 

So let's end with a little quiz. During my research for Maria's costume I found some amazing outfits inspired by The Sound of Music song titles and lyrics - I bet you recognise most of the songs that the following costume ideas are based on:

  1. Tea bag
  2. A goat with long strings going from hands and feet to two crossed sticks
  3. A jar of fruit jam
  4. Atro turf
  5. Whiskered cats
  6. Five teenagers wearing different numbers reading left to right 16; 161/4; 161/2; 163/4 and 167/8.

And if you don't manage to get them all, I’ll give you the answers in next week’s blog - which will be all about nuns. 

The Old Button is more than happy for you to use these costume ideas as inspiration for your own production.

Pinning through Pinterest is fine as long as you credit The Old Button but please respect the copyright of the photos, and do not reproduce in other forms without permission. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Hills are Alive with The Old Button Costumes

Costumes for Oliver the Musical
Oliver, Oliver, never before has a boy wanted more

For the last three years Louise Ryan Vocal School has been putting on stage musicals in Cardiff, giving children and young people the opportunity to audition for, and perform in, a professional style show during the February half term. Rehearsals start in the previous September, and so does the costume design!

The first musical, back in 2011, was Oliver and I only did a few costumes - for my son who was playing Oliver. Those were the days.

In 2012, LRVS put on Suessical the Musical and I volunteered to help out with the costumes. I was quickly informed I was now Wardrobe Mistress and told to go away and create over 60 costumes for the whole cast. If you fancy finding out more, I wrote a number of blogs last year on Making the Costumes for Seussical the Musical - you can find all five of them here. Whew!

Costumes for Seussical the Musical
Oh, the thinks you can think!
A number of these Seussical costumes have just been sent over the pond to America after a mum from a drama group in Alabama spotted my blog and asked if she could buy some for their production. Great to think another group of youngsters will get to use them - I hope she sends me photos. 

Austrian dress for The Sound of Music
Brown paper packages tied up with strings!
I've been designing and making stage costumes for a number of years, since my daughter started dance lessons with Performing Arts Cymru in Bridgend.

One of the earliest I made was an Austrian style dress for my daughter about five or six years ago. She did a song and dance routine "These are a Few of My Favourite Things" from The Sound of Music.  And yes, the dress was made from an actual old curtain.

Ok, so the design wasn't exactly authentic - instead of a gathered dirndl it had a full circle skirt suitable for a lyrical ballet dance, and I needed to redo the white bodice in stretchy lycra to allow her to breathe while singing and dancing at the same time! I've found a few books on costume design for plays and film where authenticity is important, even down to the undergarments. But I've discovered that great musical theatre costumes need to create a sense of the character while allowing ease of movement and breathing room.

Louise Ryan vocal coach celebrating 25 years teaching

2013 is a very special year for Louise Ryan as she has been teaching for 25 years! She has helped hundreds and hundreds of students, a number of whom have gone on to very sucessful singing and stage careers.

So the LRVS show this year was extra special -  showcasing extracts from not one, but three, musicals! The Sound of Music, Les Miserables and We Will Rock You - three very different productions that demonstrate the wide range of vocal and acting skills LRVS nurtures and develops. These showcases also supported the BTEC Performing Arts examinations the school now offers pupils, providing lots of opportunities for leading ladies and men, as well as supporting and ensemble roles and some huge choral numbers. 

And of course, I was there as Wardrobe Mistress again. And a 3-in-1 show meant lots of costumes. And I mean lots - there were over 200 different outfits in total. A completely different challenge to Suessical - instead of designing individual bespoke costumes based on my interpretation of each different character, this year's show needed me to design, source and create lots of period style costumes to characterise large groups as well as creating some very distinctive looks that would clearly identify the lead characters to the audience. And as well as being cheap and quick to make, they needed to allow for some very rapid costume changes, as the vast majority of the 60+ cast were in all three musical extracts on the same night!

So it was back to the discount fabric shops and scouring eBay for suitable fabrics and vintage clothes. My house soon resembled those Austrian hills, with mountains of material (including curtains!) and half-transformed garments in every room.

I'll share some pictures and costume stories from each of the different musicals over the next few months.