Fifty-two-year-old costume shop Manager David Kovach is in his 18th season at Asolo Repertory Theatre. In a career for which he has designed more than 100 productions and worked on at least 100 more, his memories could fill more than a few closets.
The costume shop not only produces costumes for Asolo Rep and Asolo Conservatory, but is commissioned by other community organizations — such as Sarasota Ballet — and additional clients from around the country.
Kovach remembers a particular commission for an opera outside of Boston that needed a knock-off of the late high-fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s famous “oyster” dress — a cream-colored gown made of hundreds of layers of circular-cut silk organza giving it an oyster-shell resemblance.
“(It) took someone three days to cut, and another person 30 hours to sew — and that was just the skirt,” Kovach says. “By the time we finished that garment, we worked on it non-stop for about a month, and (they needed) three of them.”
But the task did not unravel the costume shop.
“The more intricate the garment, the more fun it is,” Kovach says.
Kovach’s own wardrobe is simple. He will “absolutely not” dress in costumes for Halloween, and if a button falls off, he’s the type of guy to fix it with a safety pin.
“It’s something I do for work and other people, not for myself,” he says.
Kovach started his career as an elementary school teacher in Michigan. He worked for three years before he got “completely burned out” and went into acting in the early-’80s. He’s been a performer from as early as he can remember. But he found out he could make additional cash doing laundry and repairs in the wardrobe department. He moved to Manhattan, N.Y., and within a two-year period, he learned to construct and design garments.
Back in those days, he’d work 24 hours a day getting costumes ready. One day, in a sleepless daze, he accidentally cut a hole in the center of a dress an actress had to wear the next day. But he doesn’t have mishaps like that anymore.
He gained freelance experience working low-budget jobs for which he had to make costumes from curtains and bedspreads he found at Goodwill, to the opposite end of the spectrum “spending minutia on costumes that would just rack up the bill” for Broadway shows such as “Cats,” he says.
“Asolo sits at the high-end of the middle,” he says. “It’s not the biggest budget, but we certainly make gorgeous things without having to scrounge around through dumpsters.”
The costumes are dependent on the designer of each production. Once Producing Artistic Director of Asolo Repertory Theatre Michael Donald Edwards selects a show and director, that director then selects a designer who pinpoints the shapes and looks.
“They set to paper what each of those characters looks like,” Kovach says.
Kovach then works with the designers to produce costumes that fit their artistic direction. Kovach talks about one of his favorite memories working with designer Eduardo Sicango on “Plexi Glass Slipper,” in 2008. It was a Cinderella story with garments full of elegance, glitz and glamour.
“Every experience and each designer brings an entirely new set of challenges and visions,” Kovach says. “There are things I would never put together on stage that when you (finally) see it through their eyes, and it’s put together — it really is an art form.”
Approximately 50% of the costumes are constructed new and the other half are found or already on-hand — but every piece must be fitted and worked on by Kovach’s staff of 10.
“I always try to challenge them and give them projects that are rewarding to them,” he says.
One such costume is featured in the upcoming Asolo Rep production of “You Can’t Take it with You,” about the daughter of the zany and eccentric Vanderhof family who falls in love with the son of a sophisticated Wall Street banker. It’s a costume worn by The Grand Duchess and it’s regality stands out against the other American-style costume and fabrics. The Duchess’ costume is more challenging than some of the simple alterations the costume shop staff makes. But, it’s all just a stitch in time.
“It doesn’t matter what the project is, we enjoy each other, so we enjoy what we’re doing,” he says.
IF YOU GO
‘You Can’t Take it With You’
Asolo Repertory Theatre
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 4; runs though April 20
Where: Mertz Theatre
Cost: $20 to $75
Info: Call 351-9010
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