Summer Camp Blog #3 – Costume Design

Summer Camp 2017 300x300
March 28, 2017

As a continuation of our Summer Camp blog series, over the months  leading up to the kick-off of our Levoy Theatre Summer Camp, we will be taking you on an adventure through the ins and outs of what a life in the theatre might look like. This adventure is both for the kids attending our summer camp, their friends, and, of course, their parents! We’ll explore 6 different jobs that are critical to the success of any theatrical production. This month, we explore the world of costume design as explained by costume designer of many Levoy Theatre productions including Shrek the Musical and Grease!, Melissa Kiessling! Stay tuned for our next blog post, coming at you next month!


What show?  When does it take place?  Does the director want to stay authentic to the time period?  Can we get a little crazy?  What colors will be in the set?  All of these questions and more go through a costumer’s mind when planning out how the cast will be dressed for the show.  

It’s a lot of fun to play dress up on the stage.  Once the question of when is the show going to happen and what colors are we thinking, the real work begins.  If the show is going to be authentic to a time period, like the 80’s, for example, the costumer needs to design looks that fit.  Long, hoop skirts wouldn’t work, would they?  But something with huge shoulder pads and pegged jeans would be perfect.  Once the costumer becomes familiar with the various characters, she (or he!) creates looks that make the character come to life – maybe the character is dark and gloomy and then changes as the story progresses.  

The outfits should change, too.  A good example is in Grease when Sandy goes from Miss Goody Two Shoes with her circle skirt and sweaters to the biker chick in skin-tight leather and stiletto heels.  What kind of fabrics to use is important, too.  Really authentic can be expensive and hot – clothes for something like The King and I, for example, can get very involved if a real hoop skirt with the many layers and yards of silk fabric are used, not to mention all of the undergarments a lady had to wear back then (corsets are nuts!)

Sometimes the costumer can be that detailed, but often shortcuts are taken to get the look without the expense.  It’s creating an illusion.  Color of fabric of is very important, too, because light shades and some patterns get totally lost in the bright stage lights or fade into the background.  So…a costumer should talk with the lighting and set designers, too.

The character’s entire look is considered, so that means hair and makeup, not just the clothes.  Big 80’s hair wouldn’t work too well for Sandy in 1950.  

Now if the basic ideas are ready, the costumer creates a storyboard kind of like a cartoonist and draws out all the characters’ looks.  Actual fabric swatches can be attached to the board as well.  It’s sort of like paper dolls at this point, but then the fun part starts.  Some costumes can be rented or found in storage at the theatre company, but some have to be made.  Creating original costumes is a lot of hard work, but it’s a lot fun, too.  If a character has quick changes, costume design has to address that – lots of tiny buttons would be a nightmare for a 15 second costume change in the dark wing off stage!  

Well, everyone in the cast has something to wear and the show is on…the costumer’s work is over, right?  No way!  Now there are repairs to make (broken zippers and ripped pants happen!) and laundry.  Yeah, maintaining the costumes so they look as good closing night as the opening performance is part of a costumer’s job.  The good thing is that she can and should have a team of helpers.  After the final curtain falls, the costumes are counted, cleaned, and put away to be used another time – maybe remade into something wild and crazy.  Who knows!  Costumes are only limited by imagination.


For more information on the Levoy Theatre’s Summer Camp, please visit or call us at (856)-327-6400!