Gordon DeVinney has decades of costume shop management tips honed at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park that stand the test of time. And he’s sharing them here with you!

In his role as Costume Shop Manager he oversees a department of artisans and craftspeople, designs costumes for main stage shows, and maintains a lush inventory of costumes and wardrobe necessities.

DeVinney got his first taste of theatre while he was in high school. Although the productions only included, at most, seven people he enjoyed the activity. He thought he might go into journalism as a future career until in college he developed a new perspective of theatre and its professional possibilities.

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Gordon DeVinney is the costume shop manager at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. He’s sharing his tips for success!

“I was going to take care of my required courses during my freshman year at Michigan State University and figure things out. I took theatre classes as electives,” DeVinney says, “and gained a greater exposure to creative arts.”

That exposure established the foundation for DeVinney’s entire career. After earning his B.A. in Theatre, he studied costume design at Florida State University and earned his M.F.A. He had internships during graduate school at Indiana Repertory Theatre and with The Theatre Development Fund’s Costume Collection. Before landing his role at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, he worked with the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, the Players Theatre in Columbus, and Paisley Park, where he made costumes for musical icon Prince. He’s worked as Costume Shop Manager for the last 27 years.

Here are DeVinney’s tips for aspiring costume designers and shop managers!

Costume Shop Management is a Fast-Paced Gig!

No two days are alike for DeVinney and his team. Each new season brings productions ranging from new comedies and beloved musicals to historical classics and contemporary works. Each show has its own team of visiting designers who craft the vision for wardrobe.

When it comes to costume shop management, DeVinney likens himself to a project manager. His primary tasks include:

Overseeing the construction of costumes, wigs, makeup, accessories, jewelry, and hats
Receiving technical and artistic info from visiting costume designers
Calculating a cost analysis of proposed designs and assessing them against budget
Scheduling costume fittings and alterations with stage managers and performers
Managing the full-time staff and other contract-based roles
Maintaining resources and wardrobe/costume-related inventory.

Coordinating Logistics Artistically

DeVinney often coordinates logistics between departments when the show has a unique need. For example, School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play was recently performed at the Playhouse. In one key scene, a character applies a caustic lotion to her face, which causes her to bleed. It’s something that happens in real time in the world of the story. So, how did production pull it off?

“The jar of lotion is provided by the props department. How there’s access to it is coordinated by the costume shop, the costume designer, and the director. The product inside the jar is determined by hair and makeup,” DeVinney explains. “The character takes a compact out of her pocket, opens the compact to look at her face, and in the reservoir is a little bit of stage blood. She dabs her fingers there, and shortly after that, she smears it on her face so that we see she’s bleeding. Based on the action devised for this moment, we needed to put a pocket into the dress she’s wearing.”

Costume Shop Management: All the Players

As the department head, DeVinney manages the schedules and duties of full-time artisans and craftspeople. The team includes:

● A cutter/draper, who devises the pattern that’s custom-made for a performer’s body
● A first hand, who assists the cutter/draper in their work
● A stitcher, who assembles costumes that more closely resemble clothing
● A wig master/makeup artist, who works on makeup effects, hair and hair accessories, wigs, mustaches, and facial hair
● A craftsperson, who works on shoes, hats, jewelry, masks, gloves, padding, and protective equipment
● A design and administrative assistant, who assists the costume designer, performs administrative functions of the shop, and does much of the in-person or online shopping.

DeVinney’s 3 Key Tips for Emerging Designers

Develop your drawing skills. Don’t worry that you have to be the world’s best artist to communicate your ideas. Photocopiers and Photoshop should be your friends. If you find an image that’s inspiration for what you’d like to put on a character’s body, clip it out, put it onto a board, scan it — these are all legitimate ways to communicate your ideas.

Hone your empathy skills. Being able to feel a character’s emotions and motivations is an indispensable ability. You can find all kinds of strengths-finder assessments online. (This is just one and is not an endorsement; simply an example.)  If you have an understanding of people, you can understand character. You can imagine what it is that they are dealing with in the context of a play, and you can think about extraneous things that aren’t necessarily even part of the story. What kind of shoes would they prefer? How does color make them feel about themselves?

Cultivate diplomacy. Listening well has helped me deal with people – designers, stage managers, performers, everyone involved – in sensitive and effective ways. By listening well, I understand the wants and needs better, and can facilitate more positive outcomes. 

Natalie Clare is a Cincinnati-based writer and a regular contributor to Dramatics.org. As a storyteller, she writes fiction and nonfiction, and she directs and produces works of film. Visit her at nataliecwrites.com.

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