An inside look into the world of wardrobe

Meticulously focused on an array of papers, Sonya Vallis is working on the wardrobe for the new Romeo & Juliet performance at Capilano University. Sewing machines are whirling in the background and girls are running around with pieces of fabric. As a second year student, Sonya and her Costume Design class are in the process of turning a designer's drawing into a functional and form fitting costume. While many people watch a performance, few realize the amount of work that goes into costuming.

When asked what this opportunity means to her, Sonya replied that it is her dream to eventually become a designer. She showed me all the various steps in the creating process. First, she took the designer's drawing and created her own sketch. Secondly, she sized the actors and selected the appropriate pattern block. The pattern block is the template given in class to help students with the different clothing patterns. Canvas is then cut around the pattern block and after further fitting, the cloth chosen for the costume is then cut from the altered canvas. Proper fitting costumes are important to both the audience as well as the actor wearing it.  From an actor’s point of view, Meredith Graham added, “when you’re put into a costume, it affects your breathing as well as movement . . . it also helps to embody the character.”

The costuming for Romeo & Juliet is a blend of old and new. In previous years, the costumes have been formal in their design. This year, the perspective is meant to portray a young performing company. Denim, cowboy boots and Converse shoes all add to the deconstructed look of the costumes. The renaissance silhouette was kept and mixed with today's style. A story depicting family feuds is illuminated with the Capulets wearing red and orange colors, Montagues wearing blues and turquoise, and the Royalty swathed in purple. Raw edges and “top stitching” also help create the mixture of two worlds.

The visual importance of costuming is vital to any production, and this is especially true with Romeo & Juliet. Sonya stated that “poor costuming is distracting to the overall performance, and can negatively affect good acting, whereas good costumes could help divert an audience's attention from poor acting.” An example of great modern Shakespearean costumes is at Bard on the Beach. Christine Reimer is the costume designer and her costumes are fit for a runway. Opera Canada said “the most visually striking aspect were the costumes.” The Seattle Opera Pattern added that “the costumes looked so authentic I could almost smell the miners.” Costumes create the fantasy and submerse the audience into the story.

For Sonya and her class, the runway is the stage and the fantasy is a classic love story with a modern twist. Audiences will agree that the long hours spent hunched over a sewing machine were not in vain when they are dazzled by the vibrant colors and textures in this year's Romeo & Juliet.

//Andrew Kirkpatrick

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