Place Setting: Costume Shop

Costume Shop

Mary Ann Kelling happens to be an Ole, but we’re not holding that against her. As part-time costume designer, shop supervisor, and lecturer in theater and theater arts, Kelling has stitched together her varied skills to serve Carleton for the past nine years. We visited the costume shop just days before the Carleton Players’ spring performance at the Arena Theater. The original theatrical production of in/BED/dead, created by student cast members in conjunction with acclaimed Twin Cities playwright and guest director Barbara Berlovitz, featured a series of improvised scenes that take place in a bedroom and touch on themes like comfort, arousal, and terror. Kelling, who designs all the costumes for the theater department’s three annual plays (one each term), received final information about the actors and scenes in the show only two weeks before the performance. Despite an unusually tight schedule, everything appeared to be under control during our tour as Kelling and two student workers put the finishing touches on a bevy of bizarre costumes.

  1. Mary Ann Kelling: “When I realized I could do art and create designs for costumes and pursue an interest in history and research, it all came together for me,” says Kelling, who majored in art at St. Olaf, worked in the costume shop there as a student, and went on to graduate school in costume design. She supervises seven to nine student workers (“they have to know how to sew”) each year, and teaches costume design, makeup design, and textile art.
  2. Jessica Schueler ’09: “My most memorable project was to make black, sparkly tutus for four male cast members in The Love Song of the Electric Bear,” says Schueler, a biology major from Bend, Oregon. During her stint at the costume shop, Schueler has mastered the “seemingly abandoned art of ironing,” and has learned how to determine fabric content by “lighting a small corner of it on fire.”
  3. Kelly Thompson ’09: “Learning how to alter and construct garments is probably one of the most immediately employable skills I’ve gained at Carleton,” says Thompson, a biology major from Austin, Minnesota. She also cites “knowing where to find size-14 men’s high-heeled pumps” among her accomplishments.
  4. Idea board: Color copies of Hieronymus Bosch paintings, pencil sketches, and a swatch of hair are all part of the mix as costume ideas take shape. “For this show, most of the research was on monsters,” says Kelling.
  5. Many-headed monster: For a nightmare scene, “one of the students wanted her monster to have a head with four faces, but that was difficult for me to do quickly,” says Kelling. “So we made a body with many heads coming out of it by recycling some papier-mâché heads we had in stock.”
  6. Tumor monster: “This costume has built-in bumps so I can’t imagine reusing it,” says Kelling. “Occasionally we have a Halloween costume sale when our storage gets too full. With the proceeds from the last sale, we bought two new dress forms.”
  7. Old hag lady monster: When the show is over, Kelling will pull this costume apart to reuse the shirt and fat pad underneath it. Costumes are rented out for student productions, dances, and class projects. “Anything that gets used gets cleaned before it goes back into stock,” she says. “Otherwise things would get stinky.”
  8. Sewing machines: “Initially the students like the [three] shiny white plastic Brothers, but they soon learn that the [two] old green Berninas are the better machines,” says Kelling. “They are metal inside and out and they work consistently.”
  9. Storage: Various items like masks, fake chain mail, and fabric are stored in boxes that line the shop walls. Student workers keep what they’re working on in individual cubbies. “I try to give each student worker a main project,” says Kelling, “so each has ownership of a whole costume.”
  10. Hot glue gun: “We usually stitch things on so they can be removed later,” says Kelling, “but some of these odd things aren’t likely to be used again. Hot glue is an effective means of getting things done quickly.”
  11. Pattern notebook: Envelopes of retail patterns are kept in three-ring binders to make it easy to flip through them, while the patterns are stored in file cabinets. “I draft a pattern when necessary,” says Kelling, but to save time she often pulls from her stash of patterns and adapts them for her purposes.
  12. Helmet and hair: Kelling glued hair to helmets and threaded it through skullcaps so the actors could easily alter the way they looked during quick costume changes.
  13. Monster hand: The curved fingernails of this monster hand were cut from a two-liter pop bottle. The hand itself is made out of knit fabric and quilt batting.
  14. Charts and lists: “Often I’ll list every costume part each actor wears in each scene and give copies to the actor, stage manager, and director,” says Kelling. “This [current] show was confusing because we had seven actors and about 20 scenes and the actors played different characters in almost every scene.”
  15. Apple and can of Coke: While she occasionally works past dinner, you won’t catch Kelling pulling an all-nighter. “If you pace yourself, you don’t have to,” she says. “Of course, during dress rehearsal week, we’re here until 11.”

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