Dammit Jim, I’m a Costume Designer, Not a Blogger!!!

Melissa Heller, Resident Costume Designer

Oh… hi there!

I’m Melissa, and I make costumes. Nice to meet you. I know what you are thinking.  “How glamourous! What fun!”  It is.  It fulfills me in a way I cannot describe.  The only downside is that sometimes I am not the brightest tool in the box and that means that the ever scrolling motto of, “work smarter, not harder” is a little trickier to manifest than it is to say. I nearly ALWAYS work harder when I could have just sat down for 20 minutes and applied logic until I came to the more simple answer. But no, I am a lady of action. NOW! Maybe I am afraid that I won’t come to the conclusion in a reasonable amount of time, so I jump in and hope for the best.  
Usually the answer occurs to me halfway through doing whatever nonsense I am currently in the process of butchering. I get there eventually and this has the happy, if unintended side effect of disaster management. Comfort comes in the security that salvation is not too far out of reach. It’s important for me to get close to what is in my head, because what is rattling around in there is really…..really sweet.
There are a few different processes I employ when working on putting a show together. I always start by going over the script.  I read, I re-read, and I get to know the characters. An entire package of tiny sticky tabs later, I am ready to begin thinking about what I want the show to look like.  
For a show like The Merry Wives of Windsor, I make a list of the garments that I think that each person would pick out for themselves in the morning.  This is easier to do if it is a modern show, or a show where they would wear clothes that are readily accessible in stores. If it is a historical show: TO THE GOOGLES!!!! The appearance, at least, of historical accuracy is necessary because I know there is going to be that one person… I’m not perfect, but it’s a heap of fun.  When else would I ever get the opportunity to study up on 1950s formal wear undergarments, or bustle shapes of the Edwardian era?  
Then I go shopping.  A lot.  For many of my shows, it is much more economical for me to buy the piece instead of making it.  I would love to be able to custom make each piece for every show, but I am only one lady.  When the corner vintage store has a beautifully constructed tea length wool circle skirt for $17, I buy that skirt. I am lucky that the vintage world here in Portland is very, very kind.  After that, it’s a matter of putting everything together! Every detail has to be accounted for, cufflinks, earrings, proper undergarments to create the final look.  
I have had the pleasure of working with Bag & Baggage for over a year.  I came to be their current Resident Costume Designer (I gave myself that illustrious title) at the start of their 5th season and have been happily sewing and shopping away ever since.

Working with this company has been a joyride, and a sometimes terrifying experience.  I know my costumes though this is my first experience taking on all of the roles usually delegated between a team of people – the stitcher, the shop manager, and first hand. I went from being a stitcher at Oregon State University Theatres, and later on at Oregon Ballet Theater to being the whole package. 
Imagine your boss comes to you and says, “So I was thinking of having a live product placement ad – ever heard of the Old Gold Dancing Cigarette Box?  Yeah, I want that”. It has pushed me directly north of my comfort zone (it’s cold up here) in every area of my life and has allowed me to grow in ways I never thought possible. 
The way that the directors push the boundaries, ignore the box and think outside the circle instead mirrors my own journey both with them and in all areas of my existence.  
The Merry Wives of Windsor,
or The Amorous Adventures of The Comical Knight Sir John Falstaff
March 7 – 24, 2013
The Venetian Theatre
253 E Main Street, Hillsboro
Tickets: www.bagnbaggage.org or 503 345 9590

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.