20190924 Costume Shop - LKenneally

Lesile Stamoolis, assistant professor of Gonzaga's theatre and dance, among the many costumes in the costume shop.

 

Nestled deep in the east end of College Hall right above the Magnuson Theatre is the costume shop. It is here that Leslie Stamoolis, assistant professor of theatre and dance, along with her four employees, build, organize and manage all the costumes for Gonzaga’s theatre and dance department.

Until this fall the old shop was in a lofted space up a staircase that turned in the middle. This made it difficult to maneuver large items up and down and was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Stamoolis found out last May that the shop would be moving down from the loft and into a much more open place in the theater.

“The shop has to be a classroom, a production space, a storage space and a student lab,” Stamoolis said.

This new space allows Stamoolis and her team the ability to do all this work with significantly more space than before. Through the help of Plant Services, the costume shop became a proper classroom, which has been a big goal for Stamoolis since she arrived at GU four years ago.

“I teach, every fall, a costume construction class of nine students. In the old space we were very crammed and now in the new space nine students will just fit,” Stamoolis said. “On top of teaching the class, we also do builds for our mainstage productions and then support for the second stage shows and any student projects.”

This space also doubles as one of two storage places for costumes. Stamoolis saves as much as she can because she never knows when it will be usable again.

“Basically, theater artists have to be magpies,” Stamoolis said. “You never know how something is going to be used or repurposed again. Every time we purchase or build something it becomes an asset of the theater and you want to keep it.”

The designers build a wardrobe in all sorts of ways. They make them from scratch, purchase and rent costumes from surrounding universities and theaters. Through this they create new and unique wardrobes for every production.

The process of creating the costumes for a show is long and tedious. Typically, it takes a few months and the designers work all the way up to the opening night of a production.

“A costume designer gets to wear so many hats: psychology, socioeconomics, anthropology and all sorts of different things,” Stamoolis said.

Stamoolis said she always begins with research.

“I always tell people that no matter how comfortable you feel with the period you always have to go and look and do the research on that period rather than make assumptions,” Stamoolis said. “You have to become the authority on it.”

 She went on to explain that research is vital when looking at design. She said that a designer has to be extremely aware of the text and how the costumes can impact it because ultimately a character’s story is deeply impacted by their costumes.

 “Costume designers also have to be visual artists because we sketch our ideas and sometimes you put together a collage depending on the show. But, most of the time there is some element of drawing or composition involved,” Stamoolis said. “Once you have your sketches and you know what the show is going to look like it goes into the shop. And then we enter a whole different world of costume design which is the construction phase.”

 Stamoolis said that in the costume world they use the phrase “build” over “make” because building implies more durability and intention that’s needed for theatrical costumes.

 “It’s very different from domestic sewing,” Stamoolis said. “The techniques are different the methods are different because the overall goal is to build a garment that could not only go into your stock and hold up for multiple shows but also within the life of the production.”

 It is also during the building phase that the designer gets to work directly with the actors and actresses.

 “For me my favorite part about costume design is that I get to be a part of each character’s story,” Stamoolis said. “When I was an undergrad, I did some acting but I realized very quickly that once I started doing costume design I got to work with ever single character instead of just mine.”

 This idea of working with all the performers and being a part of a whole different world within theater was excited to Stamoolis’ work study student Kendall Lilley.

 “It’s so cool working with Leslie and seeing her in her element because I’ve had dance classes where she comes in and shows us sketches and stuff but now, actually being apart of the process and being here is amazing because she is so incredibly talented,” Lilley said.

 The work Stamoolis and her team do is not only incredibly important to the theater department but to the fashion industry as a whole.

 “Costume people, theatrical and entertainment people, art actually credited with keeping the old ways alive,” Stamoolis said. “Back in the day things had to be built to last because they cost so much money and you didn’t own very many [garments]. These days entertainment costume people use those same old methods from the 19th century and we are still keeping those methods alive for making garments last, and that’s pretty cool.”

 Stamoolis uses her space to teach students and her staff about the importance of costume and the performing arts.

 “The goal is to see in a new way and become a more observant person and that is a skill that applies to everything. Students who take my theater classes are learning theater skills, but those skills are also some of the best for life,” Stamoolis said. “So, whether there’s someone who’s a theater major or planning a career in theater or just taking the class as a requirement I think they will always get something out of it and learn how to observe and make decisions and think critically.”

 Lilley can attest to this because through her job in the shop she gets to learn about a completely different aspect of the theater world.

 “It’s really cool because I’m a dancer and an interdisciplinary arts minor so having a different aspect of the arts while also getting paid for it is really cool because I get to see what happens backstage which I really haven’t gotten to do.”

 The theater and dance department has grown exponentially in the past few years and Stamoolis has played a big role in this through her work in the costume shop. However, she said there is still plenty of room to grow.

 “In order to continue to train our students at an industry level we need industry level spaces,” Stamoolis said. “There is no perfect costume shop out there even at some of the best theaters in North America, nobody has exactly what they need. But, in order to train our students so they’re ready to go out and work anywhere we need facilities that match.”

The process of creating the costumes for a show is long and tedious. Typically, it takes a few months and the designers work all the way up to the opening night of a production.

“A costume designer gets to wear so many hats: psychology, socioeconomics, anthropology and all sorts of different things,” Stamoolis said.

She said every costume set begins with exploration.

“I always tell people that no matter how comfortable you feel with the period you always have to go and look and do the research on that period rather than make assumptions,” Stamoolis said. “You have to become the authority on it.”

She went on to explain that research is vital when looking at design. She said that a designer has to be extremely aware of the text and how the costumes can impact it because ultimately a character’s story is deeply influenced by their costumes.

“Costume designers also have to be visual artists, because we sketch our ideas and sometimes you put together a collage depending on the show. But, most of the time there is some element of drawing or composition involved,” Stamoolis said. “Once you have your sketches and you know what the show is going to look like it goes into the shop. And then we enter a whole different world of costume design which is the construction phase.”

Stamoolis said that in the costume world they use the phrase “build” over “make” because building implies more durability and intention that’s needed for theatrical costumes.

“It’s very different from domestic sewing,” Stamoolis said. “The techniques are different the methods are different because the overall goal is to build a garment that could not only go into your stock and hold up for multiple shows but also within the life of the production.”

It is also during the building phase that the designer gets to work directly with the actors and actresses.

“For me my favorite part about costume design is that I get to be a part of each character’s story,” Stamoolis said. “When I was an undergrad, I did some acting but I realized very quickly that once I started doing costume design I got to work with ever single character instead of just mine.”

This idea of working with all the performers and being a part of a whole different world within theater was exciting to Stamoolis’ work-study student Kendall Lilley.

“It’s so cool working with Leslie and seeing her in her element because I’ve had dance classes where she comes in and shows us sketches and stuff but now, actually being a part of the process and being here is amazing because she is so incredibly talented,” Lilley said.

The work Stamoolis and her team do is not only incredibly important to the theatre department but to the fashion industry as a whole.

“Costume people, theatrical and entertainment people, are actually credited with keeping the old ways alive,” Stamoolis said. “Back in the day things had to be built to last because they cost so much money and you didn’t own very many [garments]. These days entertainment costume people use those same old methods from the 19th century and we are still keeping those methods alive for making garments last, and that’s pretty cool.” 

Riley Utley is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @rileyutley.

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