Behind the scenes at the SSU costuming department

The costume department is the backbone of the Theatre Arts and Dance department at Sonoma State University. 

Behind the performances and shows, the costume department is hard at work making the director’s and choreographer’s visions come to life only really having downtime when shows are up and running. 

The costume department is located in Person Theatre on the bottom floor. They have several sewing machines, cutting tables and even a washer and dryer for the costumes. 

The costuming department, located on the bottom floor of Person Theatre.

The costuming department, located on the bottom floor of Person Theatre.

The laundry room is especially helpful when dyeing fabrics and since sweating on stage is inevitable the costumes are washed to keep from smelling. 

They also have different fabrics of all colors and textures all the way up to the ceiling with a rolling ladder reminiscent of the library ladder in “Beauty and the Beast”. 

Underneath the fabrics are labeled drawers with things such as different colored threads, tracing paper, buttons and even lint rollers. 

The costumes do not only see the Person stage. Many costumes are rented out to neighboring middle and high schools, even schools as far as Marin and San Francisco. 

Other theatres such as Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park and 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa also rent from the costume department here at Sonoma State.

Teresa Kopaz, costume tech, has a degree in fiber arts. She specializes in dying and painting fabrics. 

Kopaz dyed and grotesques several pieces with watered down acrylic paints for “Sweeney Todd” including the jacket Sweeney Todd steals from the ship’s captain on his journey back to London.

Kopaz said “sets tend to eat costumes” and their budget is limited and some costumes can only be used once so they have to find frugal ways to produce costumes. 

As soon as the designs are finalized with the director or choreographer the costume team will start with seeing what they have first by what they call “pulling.” This helps save money by using what they already have in stock. 

Secondhand shops such as Goodwill are the perfect place to find pieces for upcoming shows when they do not already have what they need in their collection. 

They are not only extremely affordable but they also offer a wide range of decades and styles not found anywhere else. 

Pieces found in the costume department and thrift stores are torn, dyed, embellished and customized to fit the vision of the choreographers and directors shows. 

Pulling and shopping secondhand is especially helpful when a director changes their mind potentially causing a pricey do over.

Louise Gainer is a sophomore who got her start in the costume department by talking to Kopaz and costume director Martha Clarke about volunteering in the shop. Her first show working was last year’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” doing backstage costume tech.  

Gainer’s typical day starts with asking Kopaz what needs to be done around the department and that could be anything from sewing to putting costumes back into storage. She has gained skills in fabric dyeing, basic sewing techniques and even how to use a sewing pattern.

Gainer was unsure of how many costumes are in the costume department.

 “I can’t say how many costumes are in the department because a lot of the costumes are separate pieces that are assembled into a costume.”

“Honestly I have learned more than I even realize from working in the shop,” Gainer said. “I am incredibly grateful to Martha and Theresa for hiring me. The costume shop is my safe place where I can take time to be creative and enjoy myself.”