Guest writer: Travis Halsey, costume shop patternmaker and co-designer for Stanton Welch’s A Doll’s House
I joined the Houston Ballet costume studio in August 2006 as a cutter/draper. So what is that anyway? The cutters/drapers in a costume shop are the artists that turn a designer’s costume rendering into a three dimensional garment. This process begins with a sketch, fabrics selected by the designer, and a piece of brown patterning paper. Drapers create the different pieces of a garment by draping muslin on a dress form, or drafting them through math and geometry. A cutter is just that, someone who cuts out the various pieces. Next they oversee that all the pieces are assembled, then they attend costume fittings to make any adjustments, and finally they do the finishing and embellishing. On a regular day in our shop there are four of us creating patterns at a time: myself, the magnificent Claudia Rodriguez, the amazing Sandy Kreps, and we are guided by the stunning Barbara Joyce-Evans, who is the lead cutter.
So here is what today was like in the workroom with everyone preparing for Reps 5 & 6 (in layman’s terms: Three Classics, Five Tangos and La Sylphide/A Doll’s House). Shop Manager Laura Lynch kept us abreast of budgets, deadlines, fitting changes, and ordering materials (making lists and checking them twice, to name a few points of her very large job). Often Laura has more than just the productions at hand on her plate. Aside from the five ballets coming up, she already has the entire next season to organize and prepare for. Lead cutter Barbara Joyce-Evans and “Seamstress to the Stars” Mary Clair put finishing touches on kilts for Kudelka’s upcoming world premiere. Claudia, Sandy, and I created and adjusted patterns for A Doll’s House. Tina, Carol, and Pat assembled the “dolls”: Tina stitched strategic fur patches on “Hannibal Dog”, Pat put finishing touches on “Miley High”, and Carol adjusted a body suit for the “Amazon Empress.” Monica dyed some new silks for La Sylphide, constructed kilt buckles, and began the leg armor for her “Mohawk Man Doll.” Barbara and Virginia worked through Falling, Five Tangos and La Sylphide alterations, and Jerry, Erin, and Daniel finished up fittings for Three Classics, Five Tangos. Oh and Billy swung by with some of his awesome wigs for A Doll’s House.
Okay, okay, I’d better get to the real Tootsie Roll Pop center of this blog: A Doll’s House. Monica Guerra and I designed the show together, and it has been a BLAST. We teamed up to clothe Stanton Welch’s newest world premiere. We make a great pair, each bringing many varied talents to the process. Monica is the resident dye, color, and paint artist for the costume studio, and she has a very strong background in fashion. I bring experience from theatre and ballet costumes, and also patterning work that I’ve done. So together we brought many new ideas to the show. We each have an eye for detail too, so the work load on the entire shop for this show has been very large, but the amount that has been created thus far is astounding. Also, there is no trick or technique left behind on this one: there all full body suits that have been hand-painted, and we spent hours making embroidery, soft sculpture, hand-made jewelry, glow-in-the-dark paint, neon-lighting, fur, fringe, crystal, leather, French lace, pom-poms, bells, buckles, beading, quilting, smocking, yards of pleating, yarn spinning, etc. Besides the artisans directly in the Houston Ballet shop working on this production, we also have many items being constructed by crafters literally from coast to coast. From start to finish each garment easily passed through the hands of five or more people. But it all makes such a difference; each costume has an exclamation mark to it, and these dolls will really come off the page. They all have their own stories as well, a personal history reflected in their whole look. I think giving a design a history really finishes a costume.
Okay folks, I’ll stop rambling, as I could go on for days…but make sure you come to the show, and see what the dollies, soldiers, teddies, and wind-up toys really do when no one is looking…
All the BEST,
Travis J. Halsey
Costume sketches from Stanton Welch’s A Doll’s House. From top to bottom: “Panda”, “Aqua Man”, “Cat Lady”, and “Mohawk Man.” All rights reserved by Travis Halsey and Monica Guerra.
*Click on images to view larger version.