'Master of the House'


'Master of the House'


Date: August 7, 2013
by: Mallory Gnaegy | A&E Editor


It’s a week before opening, and Sarasotan David Walker sits at a sewing desk in the lobby of the old Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, which has been turned into a makeshift costume shop for “Les Misérables.”

“This isn’t even half of them,” Walker says of the overwhelming amount of French-flag-colored costumes, cira 1815 to 1845, wigs, hats and shoes strategically organized into piles and on racks. There are 49 members in the cast, and each has a minimum of five wardrobe changes (some have nine changes) — making costume designer Walker responsible for more than 250 costumes.

Some of his decisions are complex.

“Normally, Cosette is dressed in black and looks very drab because, in the book, she was raised in a convent — but in the musical they don’t mention that,” Walker says. He costumed the character, who is about to fall in love, as “a woman who wanted to wear something pretty (for the occasion).”

Of course, he had to make decisions based on the budget of a community theater rather than a big-screen film, or even the budget of a touring Broadway production. The budget allowed him to spend approximately $10 on each costume, from the wigs down to the undergarments.

“I went from Tampa to Port Charlotte begging and borrowing anything I could,” he says of pulling costumes for the show from fellow community theaters. And, he created 25% of the pieces from scratch, such as Madamé Thénardier’s (played by Stephanie Woodman-Costello) purposely bawdy hot-pink, aqua-and-apple-green wedding costume littered in ruffles and bows that took him 40 hours to make.

It’s enough work that it could be a day job, but being the box office manager of Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is already his day job — and has been for the past five years. So, instead, he spent his two-week vacation making costumes, and he takes lunch breaks to run errands. He rushes from work to rehearsal every day, because, to round out his time commitment, he’ll also play the villainous comedic relief, the thief and innkeeper, Thénardier.

Walker promises the end result is going to be worth it. For one, Walker doubts he will ever be in another show that has as many talented singers in the ensemble as this one.

“There are people in the ensemble who have no solo lines, but who have been leads in other shows,”
Walker says, speaking about the strong ensemble. For instance, this past season, Jason Ellis played Finch in Venice Theatre’s “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying”; Caitlin Longstreet played Janet in Venice Theatre’s “The Rocky Horror Show”; and Danae DeShazer played Violet Hilton in The Players’ “Side Show.”

Walker has been in community-and-professional theater production in Sarasota since he was in high school — his first production was Manatee Players’ “Fiddler on the Roof” 20 years ago. He has graced the stages of all of the community theaters in Sarasota and Manatee counties, most recently as The Boss in The Players’ “Side Show.”

He has many memories. There was a costume malfunction during Venice Theatre’s 2009 production of “Reefer Madness,” when one character was supposed to rip her T-shirt off, revealing a corset underneath, but she accidentally ripped off the corset and exposed herself to a full audience. Walker laughs heartily as he tells this story.

There’s also a memory from high school, when he first learned the term, “break a leg.” He said this phrase to a member of the chorus line before a production, and, during the first number, she took his wish literally.

During dress rehearsal of The Player’s “Willm—S.” Walker discovered the costume designer had forgotten he was in the production and had nothing for him. So, Walker put his sewing skills — learned from a book as a teenager — to the test. He constructed his costume, along with a few pieces for other cast members, overnight. And, six weeks into the Manatee Players’ 2011 production of “Seussical,” when the costume designer quit, Walker gladly took on the role.

Later that year, he interned in the costume shop at Asolo Repertory Theatre under David Covach, where he assisted on costumes for 2011’s “The Lady from the Sea.”

And, although it’s the week before the opening of “Les Miserables,” he’s already planning what he wants to do for Manatee Players’ “Peter Pan.”

“Steam-punk pirates,” he says with an excited grin.

Five things that inspire David Walker: 

1. My partner Jason Kimble — No matter what happens, he supports me and always listens.
2. Humor — There is nothing too serious for a joke, and I learned a long time ago that you need to laugh your way through life to stay happy.
3. My mother — She has turned every lemon given to her into lemonade. She shows me that you can survive anything and come out on top.
4. Nature — No costume is as beautiful, and what naturally occurs outside our windows, I am constantly in awe.
5. Friends — My friends are not the family I was given but the family I chose.

“Les Miserables”
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Aug. 8; runs through Aug. 25
Where: Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton
Cost: Tickets $26 to $36
Info: Call (941) 749-1111

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