Theatre Information

Costumes and Comfort

By • Apr 4th, 2012 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Much of the time, in theatres of all sizes and budgets, costume design is the responsibility of a specific individual. Decent and fair-minded designers will of course take an actor’s preferences into consideration before deciding on a costume, though this doesn’t happen as often as I think it should. So unless I absolutely hate what I have been asked to wear, I usually don’t say much without being asked. (There are times, thankfully, when the director will hate what I am wearing as much as I do, and it gets changed.)

One thing I won’t compromise on is comfort. Costume designers like to remind us that half the character is what they wear. While I think 50% is a little high, their point is a legitimate one; a character is not complete until they are properly attired. And actor never quite feels as though they are performing at full strength until they are in their costumes. But none of it means anything if it is uncomfortable to wear.

Comfort. How many times have a I mentioned it in these columns? The first thing an actor must attain in order to produce his best work is a base level of comfort while on stage. Few things can be as distracting as clothes that are uncomfortable.

Size is just one issue. If the costume designer is in any way qualified for the job, they will have taken your basic measurements and pulled something accordingly. But so many other issues can come up with clothes that are so old, and altered so quickly so often. A piece of fabric that brushes up against your neck and drives you crazy, or something like that. It seems minor, and you may be tempted to let it go because the designer is “busy.” Yet if it bothered you enough to notice, it is going to bother you enough to be an obstacle later on.

All this is by way of saying that if you are one of those people who work overtime to not seem like a diva, remember that insisting upon clothes that are comfortable in all ways at all times isn’t being a diva. It’s standing up for what you as an actor have the right to expect from a production. Plays, especially large productions, can seem like insular affairs, where the lighting guy never sees the actors or the choreographer and the set designer pay no attention to what the other is trying to do. It may not seem like your place to approach the costume “department” with these matters. But you owe it to yourself and the show to be as free on stage as you can possibly be, and that means a costume that feels right. (Even if in the script, it isn’t suppose to feel good. We call that “acting.”)

In the end, you can more readily own all that you character is, when you are able to wear his clothing without giving it second thought. Being respectfully but firmly involved in how your costumes fit seems like a small thing indeed, but the big things are built upon the smaller ones. And every little thing you can eliminate before opening night is a step in the right direction.

They say if the shoe fits, wear it. It says nothing about forcing your foot into a shoe that does not so as not to rock that boat.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

2 Responses »

  1. Well said. Having been on both sides of the sewing machine, as it were, a costumer wants you to look good but doesn’t want you to be miserable. The costumer won’t know if something scratches, or you’re allergic to wool, or a hook is digging into your neck unless you say something.

    If it’s something you’re capable of fixing, do make the offer. However, be prepared for the costumer to want to make the adjustment her/himself.

  2. Being a costumer is nearly a thankless job in theater. Like Maureen I have been on both sides of the sewing machine. Some actors I have found can be very fussy, others never saying a word. I think the idea is be as flexible as you can. There will be times, especially in large cast shows, where some things just won’t fit perfectly. When I am on the recieving end and find my costume “not perfect” I try and make those minor adjustments myself, major things do however need to go back to the costumer. Most community theater is low budget. My advice: work together with costumers, and try not to be the “diva”.