Revamping Dracula's wardrobe
As Dracula prepared to return for the first time in five years, we spoke to Senior Wardrobe Manager Mikhaila Pye to find out just what it takes to get our dancers on stage in their Victorian finest...
How soon do you start preparing the wardrobe for the revival of a production?
We start planning the wardrobe for a revival as soon as possible, or as soon as we get the casting for a production. We got the Dracula costumes back from storage before the summer break at the end of June.
Where are the costumes stored when they’re not in use?
We store the costumes in our storage facility in Morley (just outside of Leeds). Most of the costumes are stored on covered rails at the moment as we’ve just sent off most of our wardrobe skips to Canada and New Zealand as Alberta Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet are each staging one of our productions.
What do you do once the costumes arrive back from storage?
We give them a full MOT! The first thing we do is wash anything that needs washing. Everything gets washed and dry-cleaned before it goes into storage but as they’ve been in storage for a while we give them a wash to freshen them up. Next we go through them and check if there are any repairs needed. Normally any major repairs are done before the costumes go back into storage but smaller things like loose buttons get looked after once we’ve got them back out. After that we put them all in order and once we receive the casting we can allocate costumes to the dancers and start fitting them. At this point we also judge whether there’s anything we need to remake such as if we have a smaller dancer but only large costumes for the role he’s dancing then we’ll need to take in the existing costume or make a new one.
Has anything ever gone wrong while the costumes have been in storage?
We once got the Carmen costumes out of a different storage unit to send them to the Royal New Zealand Ballet but when we got them the roof must have leaked or something because the costumes had gotten damp and the leather was mouldy!
It’s not just in storage that these things can happen either, this year we’re having brand new Mermaid costumes for Peter Pan because they got damaged in transit to Hong Kong when we toured there. Water had gotten on the ship and into the container somehow and damaged all the Mermaid tails. Even though they’re Mermaids they still don’t react well to water! The new ones look beautiful though, they’re made of the same material as Cinderella’s ball gown but dyed Mermaid colours.
Are there any changes to be made to Dracula costumes?
This year we are redesigning Dracula’s trousers and making new ones for the three dancers who are playing that role. Some of the male dancers are getting new dinner suits too as they’re a bit smaller than the costumes we have. We can resize them to an extent but sometimes it makes more sense to get new ones made. Some costumes like the Pirates and Lost Boys in Peter Pan are virtually one-size-fits-all, but you don’t want the dancers to go on stage looking like they’re wearing their Dad’s suit!
Other than that we’re just refreshing the costumes as needed, everything else is the same.
Do you make everything in-house?
We do make the majority of costumes in-house now apart from Les the Tailor who does the men’s tailoring and some specialist items.
How does the workload differ between creating costumes for a new ballet and reviving an existing one?
Obviously designing and creating costumes for a new ballet takes more time but there’s still quite a bit to do for Dracula. We haven’t performed it as often as some of the other productions so the costumes have lasted quite well but it does take a while to go through it all and re-label and fit everything. We do have a few dancers doing the same roles as last time so that makes it easier as they already have their costumes.
Wuthering Heights will take a lot longer as we have a few redesigns and because the costumes are older and have been used more, there’s a lot more work to do. You can’t ever just get the costumes out of the box exactly how you need them.
What is your favourite Dracula costume?
My favourites are Dracula’s cloak and his castle robe. I also love the women’s funeral procession dresses. They’re only on stage for about three minutes and they took a long time to make, especially sewing on all the buttons up the arms and bodice, but they’re really beautiful.
Dracula is on exclusively at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds this autumn from 5 – 13 September 2014.