“I love that red is your character’s color,” Victoria Ross, Triad Stage Props Apprentice, tells actor Mari Vial-Golden after a performance of And Then There Were None. Vial-Golden smiles. “Me too.” As Vera Claythorne, she spends the show draped in striking shades of scarlet and maroon. The color, texture, and cut of Vera’s costumes tell us a story all their own—about her profession, her social class, her age, and her world.
Caitlin O’Brien knows that stage costumes communicate as much as the actors who wear them. She’s Triad Stage’s 2018-2019 Costume Shop/Wardrobe Apprentice, and the Wardrobe Supervisor for all productions in Triad Stage’s 2018-2019 season, including And Then There Were None. “Vera has a vibrant personality, and the red reflects that,” she explains. “It’s a statement color.”
Caitlin has been marrying character to clothing for years. She earned a B.A. in Theatre with a concentration in Costume Design and Technology from North Central College, a small liberal arts college in Naperville, Illinois. While in school, she costume designed for six collegiate productions. She also worked at Greenhouse Theater Center and Other Theatre, two “storefront” Chicago theaters—small and midsize theater companies without production spaces of their own, that hire rotating performing artists and creative teams.
Caitlin describes her move from Chicago to Greensboro as the first big move of her adult life. “I decided on Greensboro because I wanted professional experience at a well-recognized company,” she says, “and since the Chicago theater scene is booming, I thought widening my horizons and looking for work out of state was the best option for me.”
As the Costume and Wardrobe Apprentice, Caitlin works regularly in the costume shop. Her duties include assisting with fittings, completing production paperwork, keeping the shop organized and running 24/7, and—of course—helping to select, alter, and repair costumes.
For each show, the costume shop works closely with the Costume Designer to help bring their vision to life, and communicates with the Production Manager about their needs and priorities. As the Wardrobe Supervisor, Caitlin is in charge of every single actor’s costume pieces, down to accessories and undergarments. During the run of each show, she creates paperwork to track each piece, performs quick changes, works with crew members to assist actors with dressing, and repairs, alters, and replaces garments.
The design process varies between productions; no two processes are exactly the same. For And Then There Were None, Caitlin and the rest of the costume team worked with designer Bill Brewer’s vision of the late 1930s-early 1940s to find well-tailored suits, vintage dresses, fedora hats, oxford dress shoes, and other period pieces for the cast. After measuring actors during pre-production and buying or pulling pieces from storage based on the vision of the directors and designers, the costume shop holds preliminary fittings for each actor to see which pieces work and what needs to be added to make costumes appear as appropriate and “lived in” as possible. The shop then completes the necessary alterations between preliminary fittings and final fittings, which are held just before tech week begins. From the beginning of tech week until opening night, the shop works with the designer to pull and repair costume pieces to perfection.
For emerging theater artists, Triad Stage’s Professional Training Program offers hands-on training and support from industry professionals. Caitlin applied because she felt that it would help her hone her skills as a dresser and costume technician, and because she was interested in working in a full-time costume shop at a regional theater. During college, her training centered on design work, with little focus on costume technology and crafts, but since beginning work at Triad Stage, her attention has shifted. “At Triad, I’m immersed in the technical and construction aspects of the costume shop and wardrobe department, and I can feel my long-term career goals starting to move toward working full-time in a costume shop, and away from full-time freelance design work.
“Every day, I come in to work and am greeted with a new task that I view as a learning opportunity. It’s a fast-paced, real world setting that’s helping me become a stronger technician and broadening my skill set as a designer. During And Then There Were None, I learned how to alter and repair multiple men’s suits. For our next show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’ll be working on intricate costume crafts and millinery (masks). I’m always open and excited for these challenges, and for how they can improve my abilities and boost my confidence as a technician and theater artist.”
– Mackie Raymond, 2018-19 Marketing/Development Apprentice
This piece is the first in a series of 2018-2019 Apprentice Profiles. More to come!