Costumes That Help Performers Become Their Characters Featured at Goodspeed Warehouse
Glenn Close’s iconic gown from Sunset Boulevard, one of Annie’s dresses from Annie, Dolly’s famous red gown from Hello, Dolly!, Alex Baldwin’s suit from A Streetcar Named Desire, and much, much more, are all part of a renowned collection of nearly 250,000 costumes and accessories stored at Goodspeed’s costume collection warehouse in East Haddam.
The collection began in the 1980s when the theater began purchasing costumes from Broadway shows and tours that were closing. It has grown since then to include not just costumes from Broadway, but also from opera productions.
It includes hats, gloves, purses, shoes, gowns, suits, shirts and even pantaloons. It is a dress-up dream come true, and a source of inspiration for costume designers throughout the world who understand the importance of wardrobe when it comes to building character, plot, and theatrical presentation.
And those ideas will be explored as part of class being offered by the Wesleyan Institute of Lifelong Learning (WILL) in Middletown on Saturday, Oct. 19, with registration required by Friday, Oct. 4. The class, “A Passion for Dance: Goodspeed Opera House’s Billy Elliot” will include a Goodspeed performance of Billy Elliot and a trip to the costume department—which has costumes organized by show and period, maintained in a temperature controlled environment.
Insight into How Costume Design Works
Often theaters and producers will rent costumes for ensemble members in a tour or even in a Broadway show. Sometimes they rent just a particular purse or hat or tie for a production.
Last year, for example, costume designer Gregg Barnes for Goodspeed’s The Drowsy Chaperone used some of the costumes in the collection from the Broadway production. Barnes, a three time Tony winner, was the designer of the original production; he drew on some of the costumes from that show and from other shows that he had designed and were in the collection to supplement new designs.
The main function of the costume warehouse, of course, is to maintain the collection and carefully store the costumes, and make them available for rental to theaters across the country. About a dozen of the costumes are displayed on mannequins in the lobby, available for viewing during showtimes. Limited staffing makes it impossible for the larger collection to be open to the public, but tours are available for groups attending shows by arrangement through Goodspeed’s education department.
Those are interested in a full tour of the costume department can request it from the Goodspeed education department, if they are part of a group that attends a show. It is one of a variety of options available to groups.
Erin Coffey, the education director at the Goodspeed, says groups also can have a talk back after the performance with members of the cast, or select from other options that include talks about the theater’s history, a full tour of all of the theater’s facilities, workshops with professionals, and more.
One group taking advantage of that is the WILL class, which will take part in a full day at Goodspeed including the visit to the costume department, a talk-back session, a visit to the prop shop, and a box lunch. The discussion will include how costume design works, including how designers generate ideas and do research, and how costumes help performers become their characters.
The Goodspeed visit is just one of several programs scheduled by WILL.
WILL Program Director Richard Friswell says the classes are aimed at adults who enjoy learning but don’t want the pressure of a college course. The motto of the program is “curiosity is ageless.” These short-term classes usually run from one to six sessions each, and there are no tests, papers, or other assignments.
Run out of Wesleyan’s Wasch Center for Retired Faculty, the programs are taught by a variety of Wesleyan faculty members, retired faculty members, and subject-matter experts from the area. Classes are limited in size, usually with fewer than 25 students. Many of the classes focus on the arts, literature, and history, with other courses on the social sciences.
Also this semester, there will be classes on 1950s architecture, George Bernard Shaw, the relevance of New Testament parables for our contemporary world, Gothic literature and art, William Blake and the Book of Job, and two-part course on raptors and waterfowl conducted at the Audubon Center’s Bent of the River.
For food and drink lovers, there is an Over a Barrel: The World of Liquid Spirits five-session class that will cover the history of various spirits, production techniques, and distilled spirits from around the world.
While it costs to enroll in most of the classes—the Goodspeed class costs $250—there is one class this semester that is free, a day-long session on Code of Silence: Voices of the African Enslaved in 19th century Connecticut on Saturday, Oct. 5. While it is free, prior registration is required, and the event is limited to 100 people.
Information and registration for any of the classes is available at wesleyan.edu/will or by calling 860-685-3005.