Lake Charles Civic Ballet

Inside the Wardrobe: Part I

Photo by Katelyn Chargois / fabric bins in Houston Ballet Wardrobe Department
During the last week of Ben Stevenson Academy 2011 Summer Intensive, a select group of moms were given the opportunity to peer inside the wardrobe department of Houston Ballet. Located on the second floor of their new home downtown in Houston Ballet Center for Dance, the Wardrobe Department is expertly managed by Laura Lynch. Laura provided our small group of visiting moms with an insider’s view of ballet wardrobe and costumes. She shared information on the department’s organization, their attention to detail, and the reasons for the bare beauty of their new space. Many thanks to Debby Brown, ‘Onie’ White, and Laura Lynch for sharing their ballet home with us, and this rarely seen view of a professional ballet company.
In a smaller market, a wardrobe department runs with mostly volunteer labor, but a professional company “must” depend on a hired work force. Laura’s team consists of only one volunteer, Hermione ‘Onie’ White, and Onie considers her work in the wardrobe department a labor of love. She shared several of her own personal stories relating to the wardrobe, but one experience appeared particularly special. With instruction and assistance from a visiting designer, Onie constructed her first tutu out of scraps of tulle. Admittedly the adventurous project challenged her skills. Following the designer’s hand drawn sketches and working for over 500 hours on her creation, Onie gained a true understanding and respect for those who work in the wardrobe and costume industry. 
Houston Ballet’s wardrobe department is made up of many different areas each with a specific purpose. There is a shoe wall—no pointe shoes here. HB has a special Shoe Room for pointe shoes. These are all decorative shoes and boots created for the many character costumes. The photo above shows the bins that hold bolts of fabric used by the department. There are rolling tutu trees, library shelving filled with boxes of costume accessories, and many staging areas reserved for precise needs. Along one wall are the Ballet Bibles—one for every ballet. Each bible contains the details for every piece necessary to recreate a costume. Swan Lake has four separate bibles of its own. Onie told us about the Stitch Bible. The book contains directions and details to sew or repair any costume. The directions are very specific. To replace a missing button you must reference details such as the button location on the costume, the fabric, and the stitch to use. If you do not follow the bible details, then you must remove your work and begin again. The strict attention to detail required by the department is one of the many things that makes their business such a success. 
A wardrobe department is truly a magical place. The full-time staff and contract artisans of Houston Ballet work behind the scenes, but their talents are seen by all of us who share a love for ballet and the theatre. We will have more to share on our visit Inside the Wardrobe: Part II.

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