IN HER FREE TIME, Shirlee Idzakovich, a professional costume designer for theatre and film, manages a Facebook group titled Costuming for Everyone. She describes it as a no-judgment think tank where costumers of all experience levels, from high school to professional, can find resources on topics ranging from pattern making and rendering to sewing and textiles.

The group’s title is more than a name, however ― it’s also Idzakovich’s philosophy on the craft. Idzakovich believes anyone with enough interest and initiative can costume a production using the following five steps.

Identify your costume crew.

Idzakovich says a costume crew can be one person or 20 people, and she suggests looking more closely at those around you if you don’t think your school has the makings of a crew. Idzakovich recommends individuals with strong opinions about fashion, regardless of whether they have specific costuming experience. Look for people who think outside the box. And don’t overlook those who usually take onstage rather than backstage roles. According to Idzakovich, everybody needs a stake in costuming.

Thespians participate in a costuming workshop at 2019 ITF. Photo by Corey Rourke.

Find your script and read it.

“You cannot costume a show without reading the script,” Idzakovich says. “That script is your guide to everything.” As a designer, Idzakovich creates what she calls a color script. She meticulously highlights portions of the text with different colors ― she owns at least 18 highlighters ― with each color representing a point of design focus. For example, green might denote the wealth or status of a character, while yellow can be used to designate age. She also uses specific colors to identify gender, seasons, time periods, and moods. Finally, she circles exact references that make their way into dialogue; for example, the mention of a red dress or a character’s white hair.

“You want to understand where that character was, where it is now, and where it’s going,” Idzakovich said. “I know everything there is [to know] about that character through those colors. That’s how I read a book or a script.”

Decipher your director’s words.

Learning to translate a director’s vision into design-speak is critical. Idzakovich says it’s important to meet with the director at the beginning of the design process to clarify directions, as well as the budget and timeline for the show. Be sure to write down or record specific words used by your director. “Their words are crucial,” Idzakovich says.

At the same time, don’t underestimate the value of a picture to clarify that you and the director are on the same page. “It’s hard for me to get in someone’s head to understand what they’re thinking. That’s why sketching is so important,” Idzakovich says.

Thespians participate in a costuming workshop at 2019 ITF. Photo by Corey Rourke.

Start your costume bible.

“It’s not a bible, but for me, for the next year, it’s everything I’m living for,” Idzakovich explains. “That thing is my entire world.” The costume bible is a binder in which the designer includes references and resources that will guide planning. Idzakovich’s costume bible generally includes the following items:

  • Color script
  • Cast list
  • Mood boards
  • Blank croqui, the body form drawings that serve as foundations for costume sketches
  • Costume sketches
  • Color stories, or the palette of colors used to build the look of the show
  • Notes and research
  • Actor measurements
  • Schedules
  • Costume plot, outlining every character, actor, size, and costume piece

Idzakovich color codes the costume plot, too, so she can quickly identify which pieces will be bought, rented, built, or borrowed. “When I do the costume plot, everything gets a color,” Idzakovich says. “It’s my storyboard for how much time I have.”

Idzakovich recommends keeping a key in the front of the book that explains any abbreviations you use so others on your costume crew who might need to reference your work can do so. You might also include a responsibility chart, identifying who on the team is tasked with each assignment.

“Once you get the costume bible started, everything falls into place,” Idzakovich says.

Thespians participate in a costuming workshop at 2019 ITF. Photo by Corey Rourke.

Plan your costume parade.

According to Idzakovich, the costume parade should take place sometime between two weeks before opening and the day technical rehearsals start. It’s the time when the director and costume designer see every costume onstage with sets and props. Idzakovich recommends blocking at least a half-hour before or after rehearsal for the costume parade, bringing all costumers into the process. Rolling racks to the side of the stage can help actors move through changes quickly.

For Idzakovich, this is the point where all the hard work finally pays off. “At that point, make all adjustments that need to be made,” she says. “Everything comes together on that stage.”

Want to learn more? Take Shirlee Idzakovich’s costuming workshop at Thespian Nation Live, January 29-31, 2021.

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