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Spotlight: Costume Designer

It’s no secret that theatre is an extremely collaborative art. It’s not all about the actors onstage. A great deal of putting on a fantastic show is in the combined efforts of the production team members. This week, we’ll take a look at the goings-on of the costume shop and QCT’s resident costume designer, Anna Grywalski. This will be Anna’s final production after two and a half years at QCT.

Q: What does your average day look like?
Usually, I go up and talk to the girls in the office for a few minutes, say hello. Then, depending on where we’re at in the process of the show, I could be immediately starting to sew or I could go downstairs and start pulling [costume pieces]. Maybe I need to go shopping for that particular show. It changes day to day, but in general, it’s steps towards getting the show ready to open. If we’re early on in a show, I could have production meetings with other people in the building or if it’s near opening, I’m probably scrambling to get all the last-minute notes done and have everything ready in the dressing room.

Q: When you’re beginning a show, what’s the first thing you do?
The very first step is to read the script and listen to the music, if it’s a musical. I’ll read the script a few times and then we’ll have production meetings where we discuss our ideas and visions with the other members of the artistic team. From there, we’ll do research. Depending on if the show is set in a different time period, we’ll do different costume research for what the clothing style was at that time and find specific examples of things that I like for different characters. I do character analysis with the director to figure out what we see are the most important characteristics of each, how we want to highlight those and how they tell the story.

Q: Where do you go from there?
After the research, I try to do sketches or renderings. Once we all agree on design styles, then I go through and decide what things I might have from our costume stock and what things I definitely know we can’t find or buy. I’ll have to build those. I make a list: pull, build, buy, rent. You check off what things you think would be available, what things you’ll have to rent. Then you start pulling the things you think you need, buy the fabric, cut the fabric, make the costumes. It’s a lot of work.

Q: So if you were going to start completely from the beginning and build one costume for this show, how long do you think that would take you?
I did that for Fantine’s dress and it probably only took me about a day. That’s with built-in lunch and meetings. It’s still at a fitting point, so it needs finishing work on it and distressing.

Q: How much were you able to pull from QCT’s basement for this show?
Actually, barely anything. Where I did get a lot from was that stock we acquired from Stage Door. I was able to pull a lot from that and I brought it over. It’s all very clean and basic. It’s a lot of cotton skirts and cotton shirts, which is great for the basics, but it doesn’t quite have the detail and depth of grit that we’re looking for in this show. I’m going to probably end up beating up a lot of it.

Q: How does one go about beating up a costume to distress it?
I like to cut holes in things, take sandpaper, and sand over it; it frays it really well. You can also then put it in the washer and that’ll help the fraying. There are other tools you can use, like a grater and tools from the shop. Then to get the color, I usually paint, spray paint. I love spray painting for distressing. It’s so much easier. I do spray paint, dye, and powders that look really good when you rub it into fabrics. It’s all permanent, so it’s not going to wash out. One time in grad school, I was trying to distress something and I ran it over with my car a bunch of times. It was fun.

Q: What’s your vision for this particular show?
We’re trying to keep it as realistic and as gritty as possible because it is such a dirty story. It’s unhappy and these people were not clean. They were extremely poor. Most everyone in this show is poor and struggling, and we wanted to make sure we show that, so that it’s real. The more real it looks, the more the audience will get into it and the story will be that much more. We want to create the most interesting and real, honest, detailed costumes we can.

Q: What’s the contrast then for the poorest of the poor and the upper class rich?
We do have a few wealthy people and then there’s the wedding, of course, which will be the biggest contrast. The men will be in formal tuxes and the girls will be in ball gowns, essentially. The colors, the type of fabric, the style of the dresses… Poor people can’t afford to upgrade their wardrobes all the time, so we’ll be mixing periods because someone might’ve been wearing the same thing for the past twenty years. The formal, rich people will have the latest styles. The 1830s has a very specific style of dress for women, so everyone will be nice and clean and bright and shiny. And sparkly sometimes.

Q: What’s been your favorite show to costume?
Here, I think it’s been Peter Pan. It’s not necessarily the best costumes or the highest design, but it was just such a great production. I think that’s probably been my favorite one that I’ve designed.

Mermaids, Peter Pan

Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys, Peter Pan

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