“Something Rotten!” is coming to Florida Studio Theatre. That’s not a bad review.
It’s the name of a musical comedy by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, and John O'Farrell.
It’s a hilarious show — and also humongous. As it should be. It’s a satirical spin on Shakespeare, the 800-pound gorilla of live theater. A less-is-more approach just wouldn’t work.
More is more? That’s more like it — especially when it comes to the actors’ finery.
The original Broadway production boasted 72 boxes of costumes by Gregg Barnes.
He designed them with a heavy Shakespearean look, but light enough for the actors to dance and sing without having a heat stroke. None did. Barnes knows what he’s doing.
Mari Taylor Floyd is FST’s costume shop manager. Aubrey Hess is her costume coordinator in this production.
Once “Something Rotten!” got the green light for this season, the job fall in their lap. They also know what they’re doing; and that’s a lot. On a production of this magnitude, Floyd always starts by asking what she can’t do.
“I’ll assess how big my shop is," she says, "How many workers I can get, and how many costumes we can finish and produce within the allotted timeframe.”
Floyd did the math. 72 boxes of costumes?
That’s an impossible dream.
“I realized this is a huge show and I just didn’t have the staff to create all the costumes from scratch," says Floyd. "I decided to look for a rental package.”
Floyd discovered that one theater company had purchased all of the original Broadway costumes. And the national tour costumes as well. Happily, that theater was the Titusville Playhouse on Florida’s space coast. Not Cyrano's Theatre Company in Anchorage, Alaska.
“We were lucky,” says Hess. “The costumes could’ve been anywhere, but they wound up in Titusville — which is about 170 miles from Sarasota. We could pick them up ourselves and save a pretty penny.”
“We” turned out to be Alex Price, FST’s production manager. He volunteered to pick up the costumes in a U-Haul. After a six-hour round trip, he brought them back.
His delivery totaled 35 boxes of costumes, with nine full boxes of fabric to replace or repair any rips, tears, or breaches in the breeches. Once Price backed up to the loading dock, the FST production team sprang into action.
“It was an amazing display of teamwork,” Floyd says. “They offloaded the truck, flung the boxes through the back door, took the costumes out of the boxes, painstakingly checked them against the inventory, put them on racks and took everything upstairs to the dressing room.”
Next step? Floyd and her team had to customize the costumes.
That’s not so easy, but it’s not as hard as it sounds.
“Our actors are physically comparable to the original actors,” says Floyd. “The sizes of the costumes were too. We still had to customize them for some actors — take something in or let it out or add a panel. Because the costumes had already been designed, we just had to make sure each one fit.”
It doesn’t sound that complicated. Costumes are clothes, right? Right.
But they’re not like the ones you buy off the rack — and that’s a good thing.
According to Hess, rented theatrical costumes are designed for easy alternations.
“The costumes have no linings, and all come with an extra seam allowance,” Hess says. “Every seam has up to four inches of extra fabric on either side to allow for modifications.”
She adds that adjustments are OK — just so long as they’re not permanent.
“We never trim,” Hess says. “The extra fabric lets us fold and hand-sew any seam we’re taking in. That way, the actor’s costume isn’t flopping around on stage.”
Hess and Floyd have now successfully fitted the costumes to each FST actor. They say it all went smoothly, with no pin accidents, trouser rips, or other wardrobe malfunctions. Everyone involved had a great time.
“The costumes all have tags indicating how far they've gone and who’s wore them,” says Floyd. “Our interns had fun going through the tags. They found some garments had been worn by Tony-nominated actors, like Brian d’Arcy James. We actually have his original pants! It’s a piece of theatrical history!”
Floyd and Hess also enjoyed the process. Greg Barnes is evidently a superstar in the theatrical costume community. According to Hess, “Working with costumes of this caliber is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
While Barnes created the original designs, FST’s costume wizards aren’t reduced to a passive role.
They tap into their own creative powers at every stage.
“Some rental costumes have seen a lot of wear and tear,” notes Floyd. “The flashy ruff collar for one character must’ve gone through the wash about 1,000 times. It just wasn’t up to FST standards, so our lead draper, Ana Strickland, created a new one from fabric we already had in stock. She’s truly a rock star!”
As of this writing, dress rehearsals are in full swing.
According to Hess, a special magic happens once the actor puts on their costume.
“Actors might get to a certain point in preliminary rehearsals,” she says. “When they put on their costumes, it helps them take it to the next level.”
Jillian Louis had that experience. She plays Bea, the wife of one of the production’s ambitious playwrights.
“My incredible costume captures the traditional Elizabethan shape of women’s clothing,” she says. “I definitely laughed out loud the first time I tried it on — in the best possible way. It’s going to be so much fun to go on this journey every night!”
“Something Rotten!” rehearsals are wrapping up — and opening night is a few days away.
Have Floyd and Hess made their final stitch on its costumes?
“For now,” says Floyd. “Except for restoring all the alterations, marking the tags, and returning the rental package exactly as we found it, our work on this show is done.”