Taking to the Stage
18 December 2020
In a normal year, it's around now people get involved in 'seasonal productions'. At one end of the scale there are the schools: The 'landscape' on the Nativity Play has shifted in recent years to cater to the more multicultural demographic – whilst Joseph, Mary and the Christ Child are still usually the traditional focal point, the nature of their visitors has broadened out. Remember the Nativity in 'Love Actually' featuring a spaceman, lobster and whale? We've had our fair share of requests based on Blue Sky Thinking. One year we had a request based on a local school deciding they wanted the children dressed as planets. Revealing a surprising gap in the costume market as no-one actually makes planet costumes, we improvised with a reversed pumpkin costume. Another year, at the height of the Finding Nemo popularity, the idea was the children as fish.
On the other hand there are the pantos (and variations), and, as has been repeated a lot in the current crisis, the supposed supportive mainstay of the theatre business. Here the landscape has also changed – many large theatres and even organisations like the BBC, have given up having wardrobe departments, on the grounds of the cost of maintenance and space. Theatres and local authorities 'buy in' productions from specialist companies. The tradition still thrives at village am-dram level but arguably, current restrictions aside, lack of retail fabric outlets and aspects of fast fashion, are causing costume-making skills to be lost.
In the early days, we actually wrote our own pantos – it was one way of getting costumes used, but in the wider market, whilst we can't kit out whole productions (no space, for one thing), there are occasional requests for outfits people cannot source – mainstream panto costumes online are rather sparse, unless you get lucky on eBay. Sometimes matching a Director's vision to reality can be a challenge, but we usually have the ability to come to a compromise.