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By Brian Robin

A Holiday Tradition in Costumes

Imagine hundreds of costume pieces painstakingly labeled by character. Thousands of hours spent fitting, altering, repairing and refining the costumes. A "Bible" for reference. And seven workers doing all the work. That's just a part of the theatre magic behind SCR's annual production of A Christmas Carol.

Along with the sartorial splendor of costumes straight out of Victorian London, adaptability is the eternal constant that follows SCR’s Costume Shop throughout the year.

A Christmas Carol runs from Nov. 25-Dec. 24, but the costume demands never stop.

“We joke that we probably are working on parts of A Christmas Carol all year long,” said Amy Hutto, SCR’s Costume Shop Manager and the architect of the complex process of preparing the costumes for SCR’s annual show. “We’ll see a piece of clothing that barely made it through the production and we’ll start working on it whenever we have a spare moment. Almost always in the shop, when we have a spare day, we can crank out repairs or rebuilds of costume pieces.

“If we’re going to build anything big, like when we redid the Ghosts’ costumes or costumes for Fred’s party, we do that over the summer or when we have a spare moment.”

Each year comes with its own challenges. Sometimes, it's new cast members, other times, it’s staff turnover. Last year, Hutto hired a new cutter/draper—Isabella Weiland—who is responsible for handling 14 out of the 16 children’s costumes. That means she is responsible for fitting, altering and labeling upwards of 350 items of clothing.

The men, women and children each have their own table in the costume shop. Full Charge Costumer Laurie Donati, who has been fitting SCR actors for 37 years, oversees fitting/altering all the men in the play. Tessa Oberle, who is brought in as a contract overhire, handles the women and the two oldest girls, who play Martha Cratchit. Additional stitchers come in to help with alterations.

Each costume demands its own fitting and must be built to accommodate all the quick changes, which can happen in as fast as 45 seconds. They also can be altered in the middle of a production, because—as Hutto said through her 26 years of experience—”these kids can grow in three weeks.”

The process starts in earnest in mid-October, when six full racks of costumes are trucked over from SCR’s production center, where they live for 10 months a year on shelves that are labeled with the scenes they’re worn in. Bolts of fabric and patterns reside there as well, in case a coat or skirt needs to be altered or re-made.

That’s when Hutto consults the “Bible,” a master guide listing every piece of clothing worn in the play, what scenes they’re worn in, and directions on taking them off and putting them on. Every garment is photographed, with tracking sheets outlining costume changes.

As Hutto and her staff are checking in the garments, the kids cast is being chosen. Once that’s done, the kids begin their fittings. That includes matching hair color in case a wig is needed, making sure shoes fit and taking new photos for the “Bible” to use as reference.

“The children’s fittings are busy because that’s one person doing the fitting for 14 kids,” Hutto said. “We’re trying to fit that in the first week, week-and-a-half, so they don’t miss rehearsal time. That’s three hours a day and some of the kids have six costumes. It’s very intense when we do those fittings, because we’re trying to get them back to rehearsal.”

The adult fitting process isn’t as labor-intensive, especially with a relatively stable cast of returners. Hutto said at that point, it begins to “resemble a regular show.”

Even there, the sheer number of costume pieces and frequent changes mean Hutto and her staff are never really finished. Once fittings are done, all the sewing takes place. Hutto and a design assistant update the “Bible” with new measurements and photos.

“All that minutiae has to be on there, so the dressers know what they’re doing,” she said.

During performances, dressers assist with wardrobe changes on the fly, sometimes as quick as 45 seconds.

“We label the pictures and make sure they’re correct. There’s a lot of documentation, so when we hand over costumes to the wardrobe department, they know what they’re doing.”

That becomes important, when you consider that the child actors who play Tiny Tim have three costumes each. And that’s the fewest of any child actor in the cast. Some characters have as many as six. Being Victorian London, each costume often requires six or more pieces of clothing. Per role.

Should Hutto and her staff need to remake a piece of clothing, out come the patterns, most of which come from the late Dwight Richard Odle’s original costume designs. It takes roughly 40-50 hours to make one suit or one of the ghost costumes from scratch.

“We pick out those pieces that are starting to fall apart. We use the original designs, we just get new fabrics,” Hutto said. “We’ve refreshed and updated things along the way and added some new things along the way.


“We’ve always tried to reflect any new directions or updates for the show. We try to be as adaptable as possible. That’s one of the saving graces of doing the show over and over again.”

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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