by Janet Gilmore
“Twenty-five !#$^% buttonholes!” said Coco, my co-costumer at Stagecrafters Theater, holding up a long Monseigneur’s robe she had made. “Twenty-five!”
Coco is a very refined woman, as all of we costumers are. Very very refined. And of delicate sensibilities. The show we were working on, however, could test the patience of a saint, or in this case, a monseigneur. The show is “The Golden Coach” written and directed by Yaga Brady. It has never been performed before, and will premiere on April 10.
“All of the costumes will be made from scratch,” Yaga told us at the first costume meeting in January.
“Great,” we all agreed. We looked at possible fabric and color combinations, thrilled with delightful thoughts of what we might create. Four months later, though, we all were getting very tired of sewing.
“The Golden Coach” is set in Lima, Peru, in 1778. The Spanish Viceroy has all kinds of problems, including the fact that his costume isn’t finished yet. Well, his coat and vest are done, but he has no pants. At a recent costume meeting, all four costumers — Coco, Jen, Joan and I — sat in the green room backstage trying to absorb everything that still had to be done. It was 8:45 p.m. Our mouths were slightly open, and our eyes were glassy. We nodded in assent, but I’m not sure any of us knew what we were agreeing to. We’re strong ladies. We can sew all night if need to, but don’t ask us to try to think after 9 p.m. We don’t do math at night when adjustments must be thought through.
Jen has re-made the same pair of pants for the Viceroy’s secretary five times. Joan is half-way through an 18th century dress. I’ve finished the Viceroy’s vest and almost finished his coat, but as I mentioned, he has no pants. And Coco is out of her mind with buttons and buttonholes. Nothing is completed.
And because the costume crew at Stagecrafters is a dedicated group, we’ve started giving up other parts of our life to finish on time. Like going to the gym, naps and personal grooming. I don’t think anyone has actually missed a meal. I know I haven’t. Not yet, anyway.
When the 10th person recently told me at a meeting of our French reading group that I look tired, I had to vent. We had had a delicious brunch and discussed the month’s book, 500 pages long, which no one had finished and no one liked. “Jan, you look tired,” said Jane.
“I am tired. In fact, I have to complain to you all. Costumes for the new show are driving me crazy! We’re making them all from scratch and it’s a lot of work!”
“Why are you making them all from scratch?”
“Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“That’s crazy,” said Jane. “Why don’t you quit?”
“I can’t; the show opens in two weeks.”
At that moment, our hostess placed five pink marshmallow Peeps on the table as a treat for us. (Peeps are marshmallow candies in the shapes of chicks, bunnies and other animals.) She and Jane each had one. I love Peeps and was in the mood to bite the head off of something, so I ate two. It must have been the sugar, because I took off.
“The Viceroy’s vest is done. I made his pants, too, but they’re too small, and they’ll split during the fight scene! I’ll try sewing them with dental floss, because it’s very strong; in fact that’s what figure skaters use to sew beads onto their costumes! And you don’t see their pants splitting; do you? DO YOU? So I have to make the pants over again! All I do is sew!”
“Jan, you’re going crazy. If you don’t tell them you can’t work so many hours, we’re going to come and get you and drag you out of there,” said Jane.
“Fine! FINE! I’ll be the one with the bleeding finger tips, holding a length of dental floss ready to hang myself! Just do it! Come get me! I don’t care! The only reason I do this anyway is that I LOVE IT!”
And I looked at the last remaining marshmallow Peep, oblivious on his little plate, and smashed my fist down on him, flattening the squishy little guy and stuffed him in my mouth and ate him! And laughed and laughed the mad laughter of the over-stressed.
The next day I went back to the sewing machine. The magnificent coat is almost finished. I wrestled both sleeves into the armholes, which was a major struggle. All I have to do now is sew in the lining and trim the coat. Then I can love costuming again.