Costuming a School Musical.

Costuming a School Musical.

Jennifer McKenzie from Stage School Australia draws on her experience in major TV, film and global sporting events to help costume large cast youth productions.  Following Stage School’s most recent production of Wicked, she shared her costuming tips.

Where do you begin when you build a wardrobe for a cast of characters that is cohesive with the overall feel of the production?

I start with tone and direction outlined in the director’s notes. With Wicked, Robert (Coates, Director) approached me with details of the set.  It had been designed with a ‘steam-punk’ tone, so we needed our costumes to complement that. Next I’ll break down the script, scene by scene, to determine what’s needed. Additionally, I will always consider casting when designing, to look at both the actor and the character to create something suitable for both, in terms of personality and movement requirements of the performer.

How does designing for musical theatre differ from designing for fashion?

Functionality! I’ll always talk to the production’s choreographer to get an understanding of what the performers will be doing. Characters that require prosthetics will have limitations to their choreography.  It’s a conversation between the creative teams to make sure our performers look great but are also comfortable and their costumes are functional.

Having worked on so many productions, how much room do you have for your personal style to influence the designs?

Personal style doesn’t come into my designs. You’re designing for a character’s style and visual representation of their personality. Sometimes you’ll work on something that you just don’t like stylistically; it’s about ensuring that the costumes always serve the character.

When it comes to the ensemble costumes, how do you make each individual costume appear nuanced and unique, despite the constraints of style and colour?

Having constraints of colour and style actually helps costuming an ensemble group. Variation is often as simple as mixing up textiles, patterns and accessories.  

What are your favourite pieces from the Wicked set?

Glinda’s gown! Probably the best time I’ve had designing a costume, ever!  You’re juggling elements that everyone knows and expects while tailoring it to the personality of the production. For example, it still had to feel like a princess dress; I wanted it to be magical but the character required the dress to have a bit more sass than your standard princess dress. I designed spiky off-the-shoulder straps and reduced the impact of traditional elements like layered tiers.

For schools and theatre companies what sets The Costume Dept of Stage School Australia apart from other costume hire companies?

Our costumes are made for young people and with children in mind. They’re easy to work with and hold up to a lot of wear and tear.  We provide entire ensembles for a multitude of characters in a range of sizes. In recent years too, opening up entire sets, and even technical equipment at really quite cheap rates; it’s a one-stop-shop for everything production related.