Costume Shop Manager Jennifer Stanley has been in the company of artists for as long as she can remember. “My grandma made a lot of my clothes as a child either by sewing machine or crocheting or knitting,” she recalls. “We collaborated to create my prom dress. I would say that was my first design. I drew what I wanted, we went fabric shopping together, and she stitched it for me. My grandfather was an artist too. He used to paint big, elaborate paintings of Disney characters on the walls in my room and on my pillow cases. He showed me how to draw.”
Despite her proximity to visual artists, as a child, Jennifer found a home for herself on stage. “I’ve always had a passion for theatrics and singing. I wanted to study Musical Theatre, but the local community college—Suffolk Community College, in New York—didn’t offer it as a major.” Instead, she opted to study Theatre, which ignited her passion for costuming.
“As a Drama major at Suffolk, you’re required to work in all areas of theatre, so I took classes in scenery, lighting, acting, and costuming. I picked costuming right up. It felt as if it came naturally. Before I knew it, I was staying up until all hours of the night to help get the shows built on time. I also costume designed my first production, ‘Dentity Crisis, by Christopher Durang, while I was in school. It was a great experience. After that, I designed costumes for a local high school. When I knew this was the path I wanted to take, I decided to transfer to UNCG to earn my B.F.A. in Design & Technical Theatre.”
Jennifer began working for Triad Stage in 2014 as the Assistant Costume Shop Manager. In the middle of the 2014-2015 season, when the Costume Shop Manager, Kathleen Ludwig, was preparing to move out of state, she applied for the position. Jennifer stepped into the role during the last production of the season, Common Enemy.
Her academic background informs her approach to the work produced at Triad. She has a keen interest in research. She took a special interest in the source material—Agatha Christie’s original novel—when preparing for Triad’s production of And Then There Were None. “I was excited. I was certainly familiar with Christie’s name, but I’d never read or seen any of her work. This production gave me the perfect opportunity to dig into research and read the book before I even read the play. I truly enjoyed doing that. I liked comparing the two to see the differences and the ways they complemented each other.”
Once the research and design concept is complete and final designs are approved, the costume team can get started on turning them into a reality. They begin by searching for items that can be borrowed or pulled from storage. The next step is purchasing and building. “We purchase a lot of items online, since it’s easier and quicker to find what we’re looking for that way. I try to order a few different options for each item in case one size doesn’t fit, and so the designer has some flexibility. Not everything looks the way you would expect it to when you get it from an online source. Sometimes what you get in the mail is very different from the image shown on the screen.”
When researching a period show like And Then There Were None, which is set in the 1930s, the costume team often looks to old catalogs, movies, books, and ads for reference. “The clothing of the ‘30s,” Jennifer explains, “was largely informed by WWI and the beginning of WWII. Dresses of this era were rather long—around mid-calf or tea length. By the time the ‘40s rolled around, the hemline started to creep up to the knee due to the restriction of fabric and the need to preserve it for war efforts. Dresses and skirts were mostly cut on the bias (diagonally), which gave the fabric a ‘hugging’ effect so that the clothes fit closely to the body. Men’s suits were rather tailored, with broad shoulders and the waist nipped in, and they usually had two or three buttons. The pants were worn very high in the waist either with suspenders or a belt with a crease down the middle. Hats were a proper daily accessory for both men and women.”
Though Jennifer had a strong grasp on the style of the period, there was a complicated technical element the costume team needed to incorporate. At the end of the show, the character of Vera Claythorne dies by hanging. The costume team had to hide the stunt harness under actor Mari Vial-Golden’s third act dress so that the noose could be safely rigged into it.
“The hanging was the biggest challenge for the production team. We knew early on that Preston, the director, wanted this effect to happen. With that in mind, we got Mari’s measurements and sent them to Tannis, our Technical Director, who then placed the order for a custom-made harness. We wouldn’t know how bulky this would be under her dress until we received the harness in the mail, and we had to wait several weeks before it arrived. Then we were able to fit it on her and try a few dresses to see which one would work best. The sweater she wears over the dress provided the perfect masking for most of the bulk.”
When asked what distinguishes Triad Stage, Jennifer says, “it’s so different from academic theatre, which is what I have been used to for the past eight years. Triad is a little theatre family. Everyone that works here is so friendly and willing to help one another. Although the workload gets heavy sometimes, it isn’t nearly as stressful as the fast-paced academic environment that I came from. I enjoy working with designers and actors from all over. Each production brings with it a new challenge, which keeps things interesting.”
– Mackie Raymond, 2018-19 Marketing/Development Apprentice