So, the show is going quite well (I’ve still got nerves about the start date, but I’m trying not to let it bog me down too much). Everything’s been blocked, so now we’re just to the “let’s learn some lines and get used to our characters more” stage.

The only thing that’s tripping me up right now? My costume.

It may not sound like it, but for an actor, your costume is a big deal. I’ve been a ton of different characters, so I’ve worn a kazillion different costumes. Young ingenue? Sure. Historical costume? Yep. Young up-and-coming 1940s singer? Yes, ugh (the costume, not the part). Nightgowns? Swimsuit? Blonde Roman courtesan outfit? Check, check, check. The dowdy maid? Twice (one British, one traditional American).

If your hair doesn’t keep a curl (and you know full well that it’s drooping by the end of the first act), it hits you emotionally that you’re not “the character” enough. If your belt can’t be adjusted and you can’t get enough breath support for your songs, well, that’s just painful…but also affects the character. If you’re not historically accurate enough? Again…affects the character. It’s those details that help you pull the person you are and the person you’re trying to be/create together; it gives you a relationship, which then can (hopefully) translate to the audience.

At our theater (as with most community theaters, I assume), actors are generally in charge of their own costumes. In a few shows, we’ve had a seamstress or two either make our costumes or adjust — like the black number I wore in “Murder in Bogart’s Shadow” which was sewn to fit my body then adjusted further the week of opening (I couldn’t have committed the murder; where on earth would I have hid the gun? Logical explanation. I prayed for zero water weight.) — but, for the most part, we’re on our own.

ILT’s attic (second floor; it used to be the stables of a very rich fellow) is part scenery and props, part messy wardrobe. People have donated tons of outfits over the years, and the ones we’ve purchased (oftentimes at Goodwill or Salvation Army) also end up up there. The racks are overflowing and the odds of finding the perfect outfit that a) fits and b) works for your character is maybe 1 in 10…depending on your character. (I find myself looking at plays and thinking, “Oh! We already have the 1940s gowns for this!” We have furs and gorgeous old dresses that will most likely never see the light of day again; plays aren’t written for such elaborate scenes anymore.)

Usually, I find costuming the “fun part” of a show. The easy part. Even for the three-person show I did years back in which I had something like six costume changes, all in ’60s costumes, I had a blast looking through antique stores and thrift shops up and down the east coast with my mom (and stepdad, who tagged along). Sometimes I’ll find something upstairs; sometimes at Salvation Army; lately, I’ve found the right thing in my own closet. For this show, though, I couldn’t even wrap my head around what my character would wear.

See, she’s got a few character traits (and actions onstage) that imply what she should wear, but I’m over-thinking things thanks to my own personal experiences. Silly lady. Here’s who she is:

1) She’s a naive kindergarten teacher from Buffalo.
2) First time in NYC (she’s there with her playwright fiance as his show gets prepared for Broadway) and is meeting her all-time favorite star (who’s doing the show).
3) She likes to cross-stitch. (Yep.)
4) It takes place in modern day. MODERN DAY, folks.
5) I don’t want to give too much away, but in our show, she passes out cold and gets splayed across a table…so…yeah. 

6) She mentions shopping at JC Penney.

I asked for opinions on Facebook and got some great responses that have at least got my brain juices a-bubblin’. Ew, that sounds gross.

The thing that keeps tripping me up…well, THINGS…are that a) I know lots of kindergarten teachers (and you might as well switch it to “librarian” — which I am) and we don’t dress like a church marm these days, and b) we live in upstate and we don’t dress too darn outdated. (I’m still surprised at how unstylish so many New Yorkers sometimes are when we visit.)

And the only pictures I see of Arlene online are quite outdated (well, she LOOKS outdated; it’s a relatively new show, so it’s just how other folks have costumed her) — and most of the time she’s wearing a skirt. I just have this ultimate fear of “fainting” and giving an extra show. But, then, it’s not the first time such a thing has been worried about, be it me or another thousand actresses.

So, here are a few boards I worked up for Arlene. All is clearly negotiable. I’d like her to look, ultimately, sweet + a little ymodern…since that’s what she is.

***Oh, and if I knew I’d be meeting my HERO (*ahem* Peter Tork *ahem*), I would definitely wear a trendier outfit. Just sayin’.***

(Read in schmultzy 1950s male voice…since men had a major interest in fashion in the 50s…?)

First, we have the “demure” (read: kinda boring) black jumper-over-white-tee look. It’s accompanied by adorable black flats (since our actress tends to tower over the gentlemen onstage if not for flats) that scream, “I don’t want to be noticed.” Optional (unseen) cardigan available for pop of color…if that’s your sort of thing.

Option #2 screams “I want to be a soccer mom someday!” With just the right amount of drab-and-pastel color, it reads “blends just enough in with the scenery” while being present when need-be. Metallic flats (and accompanying cross-stitch tote) let the viewer know that she’s got a wild, artistic side just screaming to get out.

(Totally kidding. I’d wear this to school. *sigh*)

Option #3 is flirty yet innocent in that “kindergarten teacher” sort of way…with just enough “I might get to see up her skirt” excitement for any creepy audience members. (Plus, there might just be a dress that could be similar to this in the attic. Um, score?)

Say “hello!” to the 21st century, Arlene! This is just a thought for taking her into a more modern costume — I already have similar shoes and skinny jeans, but a cute tunic would cover things up a bit. (The one on the right is particularly innocent-looking.)

This is all, of course, just for fun. I don’t really mind any of these options (except maybe that first one. It’s so harsh and nun-like); I just need some help deciding which direction to go. And, heck, I’m sure we could mix elements of all of these together and get fine costumes (I need two).

So, if you have an opinion, feel free to share it! I’m all ears…er…yeah.

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