By Carley Stavis
Since its humble beginnings in 1981, Shakespeare Santa Cruz has represented one of the most important threads of the local theater scene.
But as the beloved theater company’s annual winter show draws near, there are threads of another — often overlooked — sort that deserve recognition: those being spun into the cozy, quaint costumes adorning the actors in this year’s presentation of “The Wind in the Willows.”
While the student workers, professionals, and volunteers in charge of costuming say that this show is of a smaller scale than holiday shows past, one wouldn’t know it from looking at the packed, wall-to-wall clothes rack in UC Santa Cruz’s theater arts costume workshop, hidden near the main stage.
“This show is definitely smaller than other shows we’ve done in the winter season. There are no dance numbers this year, so no fancy ball gowns or Spandex wear,” said Jessica Carter, the show’s costume craftsperson and assistant wardrobe supervisor. “But it’s still a lot.”
For the costumers, “a lot” equates to outfits for a 22-person cast, including 10 children, all of whom have at least three costume changes each. Stitcher and fourth-year Emma Trollman, who has been sewing for most of her life and worked with Shakespeare Santa Cruz in previous summer seasons, said this means that proper prior planning is an absolute must.
“All of the children play different animals, and that means lots of tails, lots of ears, lots of shoes,” Trollman said. “I mean, lots of shoes … so we really have to be on top of everything.”
To keep the costumers on track, there is a distinct workshop hierarchy and plan of attack. The shop manager is in charge of, among other logistical tasks, sewing specialized garments — like the Washerwoman’s underpants for this show — while costumes also depend largely on the help of students in Theater Arts 50 classes, who do basic stitching tasks as a part of their curriculum.
Beyond the obvious task of dressing the cast, the job description of the costumers also includes keeping track of buttons, properly matching thread colors, perfectly ruffling lace details, and averting 12th-hour crises.
“Backstage there’s lots of energy, especially when it’s something like preview or opening night, and there are always last-minute emergencies that have to be dealt with,” assistant costume designer Amy Bobeda said.
“One year, I had to spit on a garment to get blood out of it, then hit it with a blow dryer. Spit, blowdryer, spit, blowdryer,” Carter said. “Missing buttons, broken zippers, backward clothes, wrong shoes. Eventually you catch your stride, but that stuff just happens.”
The costumers admit that with the preview and premiere nights of the show, tomorrow and Saturday night, rapidly closing in on them, there can be an odd sense of nothing and everything to do at once.
“There’s a lot of waiting right now until we have a final dress rehearsal and get feedback from the director and size things before the first show,” Trollman said. “Things can change up to the day before we open, based on the director’s wants. It’s challenging when you get something completely done and then have to change it.”
For all involved in costuming for the show, though, seeing their work move across the stage is more than enough payoff for the time and frustration that it incurs in the lead-up to opening night.
“Shakespeare Santa Cruz put on ‘The Wind in the Willows’ 10 years ago, and as a local, I remember going to that original with my mom,” Bobeda said. “Seeing it was what made me want to become a designer. It can be frustrating to have to fix things at the last minute after working to get them right the first time — especially when it’s ruffled lace you have to fix — but in the end, it’s all part of the process.”