Ever wonder what goes on behind the curtain during a live performance? In the new series Bringing Backstage Forward our Production Team invites you into their world, sharing insights and tricks of the trade via blog posts, videos, interviews, and more. Today, Bennett Marrow, Purchase PAC Production Coordinator, muses about the art and artistry of costuming in theatre.

When I first saw The Nutcracker, I experienced the telling of a story with no words needed to understand what it was about. There was just movement and sound. But I realized at that time that the costumes were an integral part of telling the story.

Throughout the story and scenes in The Nutcracker, the different costumes guide us through the plot, introducing and identifying the various characters. We see this from the opening party scene, which has period dress involving gowns and tuxedos. Then the story takes your imagination on a journey – from seeing the Nutcracker prince to the toy soldiers who battle the Rat King and his army of mice. Each costume allows us to see the story and action of each character.

Then we find ourselves journeying through a land where imagination and fantasy evoke characters who are also identified by costuming. It takes us to the world of swans with graceful tutus, little angels. A host of other costumes bring the movement to life – the Russians with their traditional outfits, the Arabian dancers, and the joy of Mother Ginger, with her technically clever costuming and her group of little ones running amuck.

There was a lot of work that went on in creating costumes to tell this story. The work continues during the performance. What the audience does not hear is the continued coordinated workings of the wardrobe department that keeps it all in order as each character enters the stage.

Wardrobe is so much more than sewing and doing laundry.

I have had different work experiences working on stage and on productions. In the 1990’s I was afforded the opportunity to work as a scenic builder for the Arena Stage in D.C.

When the build was done, I was assigned to be a deck hand on the production to move props and pianos. What I later found out was that I would also be camouflaged as one of the actors to blend in with the motion of the stage. This camouflaging for technical personnel is also a costume tool used in productions – moving the production along technically to create the magic of the work that the audience experiences. Many productions blend the stagehands with the actors to accomplish the task at hand. We see this from puppetry to musicals, in dance, theatre, and more. Costumes are always an important element of the production.

I feel that it is with costumes that the world of imagination blends the technical and the artistry together, and it is the reason that I love what I do.

As we develop more content for the Bringing Backstage Forward series, you’ll be able to find it here: https://www.artscenter.org/arts-in-education/the-pac-in-your-living-room/bringing-backstage-forward/