Casey Costello is seated at the long break-room table in the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s costume shop. On one end of the table is an open package of Oreo cookies. On the other end is the costume bible for “Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Rogers Musical.”
The bible — a compilation of pattern renderings, fitting notes and fabric information — is so thick Costello can’t even tell you how many pages are inside.
“It has all the information in the world,” Costello says dramatically, patting the top of the book. “Everyone who works on the show can reference this book.”
According to the 32-year-old Sarasota native and Asolo Rep costume draper, the book is “about average size.” But, for those of you who don’t know what an average-sized costume bible looks like, picture three actual Bibles stacked on top of each other.
The “Backwards in High Heels” bible was especially detailed. The musical required a slew of costume changes — 18 changes for Ginger Rogers alone (played by actress Anna Aimee White).
“It was a fashion show,” Costello says of the musical, which closed last weekend after a three-week run.
She flips to the section of the book that pertains to her work, the section that contains costume designer Alejo Vietti’s pattern renderings.
A former freelance costume draper, Costello spent eight years on the road working for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, the Utah and Alabama Shakespeare Festivals, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and San Diego’s The Old Globe Theatre before returning to her hometown and settling in at the Asolo Rep three seasons ago.
In all her years as a draper, Costello says “Backwards in High Heels” had the most costume changes she’s ever seen in one show.
In two weeks, the costume shop produced 31 patterns and muslin mockups for three actresses. And after costume shop Manager David Covach returned from New York City with the actresses’ measurements, a team of drapers, stitchers, cutters and technicians assembled the final wardrobe — in just one week.
To help pump out the outfits before opening night, Covach rounded up every costume professional in the area he could think of, setting up additional sewing machines and tables for hand-stitching sequins and beads onto dresses and vests.
The hustle paid off.
“The biggest challenge was that most of these dresses were cut on a bias,” says Costello, a former Booker High School student and Florida State University graduate. “Anything cut on a bias behaves unpredictably.”
To illustrate her point, she picks up a square of fabric and explains the difference between straight grains and cross-grains. Turning the square so that it looks like a diamond, Costello pulls it from the top and bottom, demonstrating how the fabric stretches when it’s laid out diagonally.
While slinky bias-cut dresses give actresses va-va-voom appeal, they can exasperate drapers working under tight deadlines.
The dresses will travel with the production and its six-member cast this fall when the musical opens at the Arizona Theatre Company, followed by the San Jose Repertory Theatre and the Cleveland Play House. To protect against wear and tear, Costello made them extra sturdy, an interesting juxtaposition that even Costello finds amusing.
Glitzy, curve-hugging dresses aren’t exactly built to be hardy. But, then again, Costello has a flair for hardiness.
Dressed in a straw cowboy hat, brown tank top and baggy, patchwork jeans, the costume draper with the tattooed biceps has obviously utilized similar reinforcement tactics for her own attire.
“I’m kind of a conservationist when it comes to my belongings,” she says. “That’s probably why so many of my clothes have patches on them. I never want to throw anything out.”
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