by Brian Robin
Inside the Costume Shop for "A Christmas Carol"
When it comes to sartorial splendor, A Christmas Carol is in a class by itself. It’s Victorian London-meets-a-large-cast of all ages. And everything that comes with creating, maintaining and fitting the show’s costumes starts in the SCR Costume Shop with Costume Supervisor Amy Hutto.
A 24-year SCR veteran, Hutto manages the creative chaos that comes with building, fitting and maintaining costumes for 45 roles played by 17 adult actors and 16 children. Some actors play multiple roles and the children's roles are double-cast. For example, Daniel Blinkoff’s Bob Cratchit requires only one costume. But Tommy Beck’s Undertaker/Ebenezer Scrooge As A Young Man requires six. 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.
And, because this is Victorian London, each costume often requires upwards of six-plus pieces of clothing. Per role. It takes roughly 40-50 hours to make one suit or one of the ghost costumes from scratch.
“A Christmas Carol is its own special beast,” Hutto said. “It’s challenging and heartbreaking and rewarding all at the same time because our costume designer who designed it 41 years ago (Dwight Richard Odle) died. We’re still using his designs. Almost everyone who works here knew Richard and loved Richard and it’s very important for us to keep his vision going. We can make small changes, but every design decision comes with the conscious decision of wanting to respect Richard’s work and his memory.”
Hutto oversees a staff of 10, including people brought in just to work on A Christmas Carol—many of them know they’ll return to work on SCR’s holiday tradition next year. Because most of the costumes and accessories will return. Hutto and her staff turned this into a verb: to “Christmas Carol” a garment means making minor adjustments to an existing garment. But at the same time, new faces arrive, the returning child actors grow and the parts never stop moving.
A Christmas Carol has its own designated room at SCR’s Production Center. Patterns, shoes, scarves, hats and extra fabrics that await their turn on stage are all stored there.
Hutto and her staff never stop working on A Christmas Carol. She said there’s always a costume or adjustment on the table for whenever there’s a down period during the year. But the heavy work begins in October, which is when the “Bible” is pulled out yet again. That document lists every garment worn in the play, with directions on taking them off and putting them on in a seamless fashion. Every garment is pictured and tracking sheets with the documents outline costume changes, so newcomers to the performance, like Wardrobe Supervisor Kendall Dayton, have a battle-tested reference guide.
Making and fitting the costumes happen in stages. 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 35 years, oversees fitting/alerting all the men in the play. Lalena Hutton comes in and oversees the women’s costumes. Cutter/Draper Catherine Esera handles the children’s costumes, meaning she is responsible for outfitting 14 of the 16 children and handling upwards of 350 costume pieces.
“It’s herding cats, but we're a well-oiled machine,” Hutto said. “We try working smart because there are only so many hours in the day. … We’re doing this huge show with 10 people, which I think is really impressive. We put this show together a little differently than other theatrical pieces because we know we’re putting it back together again next year.”
See that sartorial artistry for yourself. Tickets are on sale for SCR’s 41st annual production of A Christmas Carol, which runs Nov. 27-Dec. 26.