The Full Story
Costuming the Nutcracker
Ever wondered what goes into a production like The Nutcracker? And what's this about vodka and costumes? Read on as our Costume Manager, Jamie Armstrong, gives us some insight:
The Nutcracker is a huge production with over 80 dancers, adults and extras, many of whom have multiple roles, meaning Jamie and her team are responsible for around 170 individual costumes! A core costume team of 4 people started working on Nutcracker in August with costume inventory, organization and laundering. Fittings started in September and then the real work began. For the last couple months prior to opening, Jamie spends about 4-8 hours a day organizing/planning with her team, sourcing materials, sewing costumes, and fitting and checking alterations. Most of her team spends at least 10+ hours a week working on various costume projects for the production.
Even though Nutcracker is an annual production and many of the costumes are re-used year after year, our dancers grow and get older, taking on new roles, and younger dancers step into the parts from previous years. This means nearly every costume requires some amount of alterations, and many need to be transformed from a costume used in a completely different show to becoming a costume used for Nutcracker. This year, all the Waltz, Candied Plum and Snow Corps costumes have updated embellishments and headpieces, and masks were created for our new Thespian characters.
New costumes are a fun challenge for the team. As an example, Clara’s nightgown is pink this year, which required a completely new piece. Starting with a vintage nightgown, the team altered it with slits in the skirt and a stretch lining to make it work as a costume Clara can fully dance in. New costumes require multiple fittings, adding to an already daunting workload.
Image: Costumer Jamie Armstrong checks a costume rack during rehearsals
Costumes need to be carefully cared for as well. Once the show is cast, the team pulls the costumes they will need from storage. Most of our costumes must be handwashed, so into the bathtub they go!
“Dance is a very intense SPORT as well as an art and our dancers need effective antiperspirants/ deodorants, but we have to be cautious of the type of deodorants worn because some leave a heavy residue on the costumes that is really difficult to remove,” Jamie says. Her team recommends organic products that are liquid and salt or baking soda based. This preserves the costumes that cannot be laundered and allows for easier spot cleaning as needed.
The team doesn’t have time to launder all the costumes between shows, so they employ a costumer's secret to keep them as fresh as possible: the pieces get sprayed with vodka each evening! Vodka evaporates quickly, is antimicrobial and helps control odors.
Image: Costumes go into the bathtub for a hand-washing
Production week kicks this team into high gear. Not only do all the costumes need to fit and be show-ready for final rehearsals, but the team must be prepared for costume emergencies. Thanks to Jamie’s team of unsung heroes, the audience usually never sees these issues – failed fasteners, tears that occur on-stage or while changing, or broken straps. The team adds parent volunteers called “threadslingers” during production. They set up a small costume shop in the dressing room, with multiple sewing machines, parts and pieces, extra supplies, and then standby for fast repairs – sometimes only 30 seconds for a dancer between scenes! (If time is really tight, the dancer might be referred to the stage crew for a really fast temporary repair with gaffer tape – a cloth tape with strong adhesive that is used frequently during a show – to tape down the dance surface, repair sets and props, and yes, even costumes on occasion!)
Be sure to thank Jamie and her team if you see them – the show truly could not happen without their dedication and expertise.
See our costumes bring the show to life at The Nutcracker, December 2nd-4th 2022!
Image: A costumer makes an adjustment to a costume strap