Thursday, April 3, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Millinery

Judy Gerstel, reporting for the Toronto Star, brings us behind the scenes of the millinery department at the Shaw Festival (I know).

"Margie Berggren is the head milliner, working with assistant Christine Grosskurth in what is charmingly referred to as the 'hats, spats and cravats' area of Shaw's wardrobe department.

"The milliners are responsible for 'any decoration on the head' of Shaw actors, including flowers, tiaras and military caps, explains Berggren. Helmets, however, are considered props and fall within the purview of the props department. 'I don't do metal work,' quips Berggren.

"What she does do is translate the designer's sketches into fabric. 'My job is to create their vision,' she explains. The process begins with selecting swatches and compiling a loose-leaf book for each show ('my bible') with a page for each costume with a hat.

"For musicals, says Berggren, there may be as many as 180 hats to fashion. This year, Wonderful Town, set in 1935, required 77 hats, including a handsome brown felt fedora worn by the character Ruth, the older sister.

"'The women's hats are mostly felts, hand blocked with creases,' she says, 'and we've tried to make them so they're not shading their faces or interfering with the sound, because the girls are all miked.'

"'Seasons can be very different in volume depending how much the characters are indoors or outdoors,' Berggren says.

"During Shaw's era (the Irish playwright lived 1856-1950), anyone who was getting ready to go outside would put on a hat but generally wouldn't wear one indoors, she says. [Hats were also essential to Shakespeare's era, and are often quite prevalent even in displaced productions at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.]

"The theatrical millinery process finishes with the fittings on the actors: 'Is there a wig? Is there a quick change? Any special action the hat has to do?'"

Leah Oster (Marion Paroo), who spent two seasons at the Shaw Festival, addresses the functionality of wardrobe in Wednesday Webcast #7: Rehearsing The Music Man. It will be posted to the archives and the Festival's YouTube channel later today.

In the meantime, you can continue reading about millinery at the Shaw Festival.

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