Barrington Stage Company: 'Handmade theater'

PITTSFIELD — Where does a costume go once a production has ended?

Some theater companies stuff their ensembles in storage units. Others rent or donate them.

During its Sheffield infancy, Barrington Stage Company wasn't averse to using a storage bin or two. But now, more than a year after moving into The Wolfson Center at 122 North St., the company has a devoted space for storing its stage garb. A renovated 7,000-square-foot basement includes 5,000 square feet for racks and shelves, where many outfits from Barrington Stage's past productions currently reside. They have some much-needed breathing room.

"We'll be separating them so [that] when a costume designer comes, he or she can see them all," Barrington Stage Company Artistic Director Julianne Boyd said on May 4 while passing by some compressed men's suits. "Now it's really hard [because] they're all squeezed together."

Staff had only begun moving the costumes into the space the previous day, so much of the room remained barren. Some of the fancier items were still to be pulled from Boyd's attic. Fur coats had already made the trip from her Pittsfield home.

"Thank God they got them out," Boyd said.

Bright zoot suits from the company's 2011 production of "Guys and Dolls" provided some of the only color in the fluorescently lit, white-walled room.

Nearly two weeks later, the room had decidedly more flair. Upon entering the space (accessible via a stairwell near the building's front doors), a visitor's eyes could scan full gown, women's clothing (skirts, rompers and short-sleeve blouses, among other labeled pieces), period suit, shirt and coat racks. Several other racks contain a variety of different themes, such as military attire. And shelves along a couple of the walls held bins with accessories and shoes.

"We had to get it done before we started the season," said Boyd just more than a week before previews began for "Typhoid Mary," which is set to open on May 27 at the company's St. Germain Stage. ("The Royal Family of Broadway" kicks off the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage season on June 13.)

Perhaps the room's most striking racks, however, were located to the right of the basement doors. They contained $660,000-worth of donated costumes from the 2014 Broadway revival of "On the Town," which had its roots in the 2013 Barrington Stage season. Like much of the room, some of the "On the Town" costumes could potentially be repurposed. For example, while the wartime musical is set in the 1940s, "The Royal Family," set in 1927, might be able to use some of the suits.

"You can always sort of massage it a little bit," Boyd had said during the earlier visit. " ... You're not going to really know how big the lapel was in that period."

An inventory binder rested on a table near the "On the Town" racks. Its pages documented the costumes that had been shipped to Pittsfield. On one page, the actor, character and scene was provided, along with swatches of fabric and a costume sketch. On the next, the actor was photographed in a various positions wearing the item.

"They really do look like the sketches," Boyd said as she flipped through the binder, noting actress Elizabeth Stanley's page.

The "On the Town" numbers are some of the only ones in the room not created by Barrington Stage's designers and costume shop staffers.

Suits are typically an exception. Yet, across the room, Boyd noticed a black-and-white checkered suit that had been handmade by the company. It was worn in the 2005 production of "Follies" as well as "On the Town," Boyd recalled.

Barrington Stage's costume shop is in the same building. It has two dressing rooms (one each for Boyd-Quinson and St. Germain performers), industrial machines from a shuttered curtain store, a washer and dryer and some colorful shelves.

"All the threads are there. I love that," Boyd said.

A muslin mock-up of a coat for "Typhoid Mary" was being worked on. After the designer sketches a particular piece, staffers can draft it in muslin, a cheap fabric that can be torn apart and reused. If that gets approved, then they work in the intended material, such as silk or cotton.

Adjustments happen as rehearsals do. For instance, a pocket for the "Typhoid Mary" coat had been requested. It's all part of the costume shop's duties.

"That's the thing a lot of people don't realize is [that] so many people go and see touring productions and really, it's places like this — it's handmade theater for this area, for this audience, and it's not shipped in from some touring company," Costume Shop Manager Trent Pcenicni said while ventilating a wig on a different day.

Boyd envisions inviting the community to view the new costume storage space in the future so that it can admire the finished products. The building itself is nearly done. A new set shop space off-site might be the next major project, but for now, Boyd wants to enjoy what the company has already built.

"Could we just wait a year or two?" she said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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