Sunday, 26 May 2013

Making the Sound of Music Costumes - Part 3 - The Family Von Trapp

Two of the Von Trapp children marching onto stage
Liesl and Friedrich Von Trapp (Photographs by Peter Cook)
Did you know there were really 10 Von Trapp Children? And Maria came as a governess to just one of them - also called Maria - who was recovering from scarlet fever.

Not sure why they changed the numbers for the film and the musical, but I suspect the Mother Abbess would have had an even harder time persuading Maria to take on the job - 7 was more than enough!

But the LRVS showcase had even more! All in all we had 12 Von Trapp children - although Liesl and Friedrich stayed the same each night, our Directors, Lulu and Natasha, had double cast the younger Von Trapps.

Double (or triple) casting younger actors is normal practice in musicals and shows that run more than a few days - there are very strict rules about the number of performances a child can do. And even if you are only doing a few nights, double casting is great as even more young actors and singers get to play a role and you automatically have understudies. It does have its difficulties though - rehearsals are longer as you have to do everything twice and of course it can mean more than one set of costumes!

Maria with some of the Von Trapp children in sailor suits
 (Photographs by Peter Cook)
Wardrobe mistresses live in hope that directors will cast matching pairs of children, so that the same costume can double up. My son got through to the last but one recall of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Musical tour a few years back only to be turned down as he was much much shorter than the other children. And even when they have chosen the cast, there is lots of lining up and juggling around - my daughter's first audition was for a Panto Babe in Aladdin - selecting the 24 kids didn't seem to take too long, but they took ages in deciding which troupe she would be in and who she would be paired with.

Captain Von Trapp with Gretl and Marta
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
And it was the same for our Von Trapps! While Liesl (played by Immy) and Friedrich (played by Jack) were performing each night, and needed their own costumes, I tried to double up on costumes for some of younger children - Emily and Lottie who played Marta were similar height and build, as were the two girls playing Brigitta - Nia and Marnie. A great start.

But I wasn't so lucky with the other kids. There was a really big height difference between Leila and Rebekah who were both playing Louisa and also between the two boys - Ioan and Declan - who were cast as Kurt. And it was the same with the two youngest (and definitely cutest) cast members - Holly and Rachel who were brilliant as little Gretl. And I loved those plaited hair twists over their ears.

Captain Von Trapp and children singing in farwell concert
(Photographs by Peter Cook)

3 Von Trapp children in Sailor Suits - trousers and skirts
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
Although our showcase included selected scenes from the whole musical, the cast wouldn't be able to change costumes. So for the Von Trapp children, I decided I would go for the iconic look - the sailor suits. I did half think about costumes from curtains, but the look of horror on the boys' faces put paid to that.

Having looked at loads of kids sailor outfits on-line, I decided to go for simple navy and white, which was marginally more acceptable to the teenagers. Although the girls weren't too keen on the white socks! They weren't too keen on the skirts either - which were simple pleated school uniform skirts with elasticated waists and in a variety of lengths to suit each child. I'm not too sure if they got them muddled up in the dressing room, or if they rolled up the waists, but I'm sure they were all knee length at the dress rehearsals!

I had been given a couple of pairs of navy school uniform trousers by Declan's mum - so he wore one pair and I cut the other one down for Ioan.  And luckily I found a larger pair in a local supermarket that suited Jack - I got the skirts from the same place - excellent price and a great colour match to the trousers.
Sailor suits - white tunic tops with ribbon trimming
(Photographs by Peter Cook)

The tops were long sleeved, round neck t-shirts I found on-line. I cut off the cuffs and turned under a small hem to make them more boxy. I machined sewed a band of navy grosgrain ribbon about an inch up on the sleeves and from the bottom - I was a bit concerned about adding ribbon to stretchy jersey but it was easier than expected.

And they looked great - even putting up with being washed and dried every day between performances. In hindsight though, I wish I'd used white sweatshirts as the t-shirts needed careful pressing to keep them looking crisp.

Gretl peeping out from behind Louisa - close up of collars
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
I did think about using the cheap sailor collars you find in fancy dress shops - so I ordered one to try it. It was awful. The polyester fabric was nasty and the white "ribbons" were just painted on stripes. So although I was rapidly running out of time I felt I had to make my own. I bought some crisp navy cotton sheeting and used the fancy dress collar as a pattern - improving the curved shape around the neck and scaling it down in size for the younger kids.  Luckily they could share so I only needed 8 (7 Von Trapp children plus a spare - you always need a spare!)

Sewing the twin ribbon stripes was really time consuming - I pinned the first stripe in place and top-stitched very slowly, making sure it was straight and an even distance from the edge. Using grosgrain ribbon helped - the slight ribbed surface stopped the ribbon from slipping, and as it was double side I was able to turn sharp corners on the back of the collar by folding it back on itself by 90 degrees. The second stripe was easier as I had the first as a a guide.

Brigitta trying to confuse Maria while other children are laughing
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
I didn't want to have to hem the collars as curved hems always sit badly.  So I cut out a lining from the same cotton and sewed them right side together. I left a small gap on one straight side which meant I could turn the whole thing right side out.  I use this technique to make children's aprons - it's brilliant - no hemming and all the messy stitching is on the inside.   

And Joe - one of the technical crew - mentioned he knew how to tie brilliant knots. Big mistake Joe - it's not easy to set up the sound system and lights when you have a queue of children wanting collars knotted just before curtains up.

Well done to all the Von Trapp children - brilliant harmonies and I just love your facial expressions.

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. 

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