Q&A@22 #6 – Costuming with Annmarie Matseur and Sue Takacs

Q&A@22 is an insider’s view of the work and the magic it takes to produce theater. Each show we will ask a member of the cast or crew questions about their approach to their particular theatrical craft.

Our Sixth Q&A@22 is a costuming double-play with Annemarie Matseur and Sue Takacs.

Annmarie Matseur

retired from costuming in June 2010 after a successful production of Jewtopia at the Playhouse. She retired again in Nov 2010 after costuming Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at The Villagers and was very surprised to find herself costuming Hairspray in June 2011. While the list of shows she has costumed is extensive, spanning 30+ years, some of her favorites include Toward Zero, the Summer of Playkids, Forum, Christmas Carol (how many years?), The Heiress, Arcadia and the Diary of Anne Frank. She recently costumed Playhouse 22′s production of Present Laughter and is presently retired. Again.

How did you get involved in costuming? What was the first show you costumed and when?

It all began on a cold and stormy night back in 1976, That’s no lie. It was one of the snowiest, iciest, coldest winters I remember. I was dating someone who was friends with Ron Lieberman, one of the founding names of the East Brunswick Community Players, Ron was directing Man of La Mancha that was performed in Hickman Hall on Douglass Campus (EBCP did not have a home yet) and the guy I was dating had a part in it. Although they had a costumer, they were looking for a person to help sew. That turned out to be me. The guy I was dating broke up with me but, during those long, cold rehearsal nights, I met this blue-eyed, bearded, gentleman named Pete Matseur who was a muleteer in the production…and we married 8 months later. My costuming and life story took a turn together.

Do you seek out shows or directors that you want to work with or do they typically contact you first?

After Man of LaMancha, I sort of wandered around as a costumer/seamstress for both East Brunswick and North Brunswick. Many times I would be asked to help costume plays that Pete was performing in. That is how I became involved with The Villagers. For most of the 1980s I stepped away from costuming to focus on motherhood. I am thrilled to say I am now asked to costume by people who know me and who want me to dress their cast. That is still an honor to me.

What’s your first step when you costume a show?

My first step in costuming depends on the show, the director, and the number of people in the cast . If the play is a ‘period’ piece, I usually start with research on what would have been worn at that particular time/place/situation in history. I then check the internet for pics of what was was worn in Broadway productions. I have worked with directors who have very different ideology when it comes to costumers; some directors are very hands-on and specific about what they would like to see their actors wear; others have a ‘you’re the costumer’ ideology and allow me the freedom to help create the characters through their costumes, only making changes when the costumes interrupt character development … or leg lifting in a high-kicking dance number. That was a very long winded way of saying ‘it depends’!

What kind of costuming problems come up during the run of a show?

Costume clothing/fabrics can range the full spectrum of being very old and authentic for a delicate period look to being heavy and non-organic (i.e. polyester) for a sturdy, durable, non-wrinkle costume. Neither end of this spectrum is good … repairs and more repairs for the delicate costumes and human beings dancing and performing in the fabric equivalent of a plastic Hefty garbage bag lead to all sorts of complications. I honestly try to dress actors in the best/least restrictive/less likely to cause them to die of heat stroke or embarrassment costumes possible. Unfortunately I must admit that I’ve had velcro give out in Don Quixote’s pants early in a scene with no chance of being repaired; I have women’s zippers separate as they sang their solos; I had a Cinderella once who didn’t have time to put on her ‘glass slippers’ so the Prince and his manservant only saw an empty step in the spotlight after Cinderella ran from the Ball! Now how do we find Cinderella with no shoe? That definitely could alter the entire ending of happily-ever-after!

What is the handiest tool for a costumer?

I WANT TO SAY SAFETY PINS BUT I NEED TO SAY PATIENCE! The only thing tougher for a performer than learning the acting and/or singing and/or dancing style of the character(s) they are becoming is dressing in clothes they might not even like. I costumed a play several years ago that took place in the late 1700s/early 1800s and one of the women in the cast told me she didn’t like to wear dresses and asked if she could wear pants. I explained that the only way she could do that would be to play a man in the show…she didn’t get it and was very angry with me, saying she was going to wear her jeans under her costume. I am still baffled that she was surprised to find out she’d be wearing a dress. Pins are great – patience is golden.

What’s the funniest costuming story you have?

Costumers are like priests, bartenders, and physicians…there is an actor/costumer confidentiality agreement that cannot be compromised. What that really means is most of my funniest stories I have can never be shared! One of the shows I had the most fun costuming was this ‘little’ straight play about a group of dysfunctional people who spent the better part of 2 hours toying with the ideology of Judaism and Christianity. This little show turned out to have the same number of costumes as a large scale musical…but planning the under-dressing and the quick changes and the wigs, and the props and the…….it was an engineering project. And it still makes me laugh when I remember what it was like getting all that together, then watching it work on stage. Those memories will always stay close to my heart.

Sue Takacs

learned to sew in ninth grade and started making clothes for her friends and herself. After high school graduation, she went to college to be a Home Economics {sewing and cooking} teacher. She taught junior high schoolers how to sew for many years. She started costume designing for community theater in 1997 with a cast of 50. She had no idea what she was in for. She won her first Perry Award that year for Outstanding Costume Design of a Musical. Since then she has won four more Perry’s for her designs in the productions of “Evita,” “Carousel,” “Jekyll and Hyde,” and “Damn Yankees. Sewing and creating have always been her passion and she hopes to be doing this for many years to come.

How did you get involved in costuming? What was the first show you costumed and when?

I got involved with costuming in 1997 when my husband and both daughters auditioned for “Joseph and” at SMSTC and they all got parts. I found myself home alone at night while they were all out having fun. Then Frank said they needed help with the costumes for a cast of 50. I said I would “help.” Then the costumer quit and the rest is history. “joseph” at SMSTC won 5 Perry awards that year, costumes being one of them.

Do you seek out shows or directors that you want to work with or do they typically contact you first?

I am usually contacted by directors who are interested in using me for a specific show. I have worked with a number of directors since I started and am always interested in working with new ones.

What’s your first step when you costume a show?

First step is read the script and take notes for each character. If the show was a movie, I will watch the movie along with the script. Then research the time period. Then measure the cast and meet with the director and take more notes.

What kind of costuming problems come up during the run of a show?

The biggest costuming problem during the run of the show is fast changes on the side of the stage. (Remember Curtains) I use a lot of Velcro for these situations and a lot of layering of costumes.
The next is when an actor is unable to perform for whatever reason and we need to use another actor and if he is not the same size finding a solution in a hurry. .

What is the handiest tool for a costumer?

Seam Ripper. Then safety pins, masking tape, of course, needle and thread, sewing machine and glue gun.

What’s the funniest costuming story you have?

When one of our well known community theatre actresses who was Liza Dolittle in My Fair Lady and she came out to sing (I cannot remember the song) in a great period Jacket and skirt that I had made for her and she came out with the Jacket and forgot the skirt. Thank goodness she had a slip on. She did get through the entire song. Twelve years later we still have a good laugh about this.

Archives:

Q&A@22 #1 – Directing with Robert Gargiullo

Q&A@22 #2 – Music Directing with Rory Chalcraft

Q&A@22 #3 – Choreography with Holly Jahn

Q&A@22 #4 – Acting with Emily Gordanier

Q&A@22 #5 – Stage Managing with Kate Matseur

Q&A@22 – Main