Building a Costume Plan for musical theatre shows just makes sense. The hardest thing about costuming for amateur theatre is dealing with Directors who aren’t sure what they want, or who think they know what they want and then change their mind as the show progresses. Or, sometimes, communication breaks down and the costume-maker never fully understands what the Director wanted in the first place.
In the past, I have met with the Director, agreed on the costuming to be done, and then showed up when the first dress rehearsal was nearing, only to find out that what I thought was agreed on was not what the Director had in mind. The result was a lot of stress and scrambling while we tried to correct the costumes. I have found that most of this re-work and stress can be avoided by building, and agreeing on, a solid plan (and budget) from the beginning.
Work with the Director
I begin by meeting with the Director to get his vision for the show, and to review and collect any pictures that he can provide to help me understand his vision. After that meeting, I create a plan in a Google Slides document that can be shared among the members of the costume crew and the Director. (Note: Many programs can be used for creating a plan, but I prefer Google Slides to create a free, online document that can be shared with and edited by multiple people.)
I start the plan with a break-down of the play by act (example on page 2 of the Plan), listing each character who appears in that act, along with the actor’s name, a description of the role, and a description of the costume that actor will wear in the act. Sometimes I still need to clarify details of the costume at this point, so I fill in any information that is available. I add any notes that might help me gather further information. At this stage, I also usually highlight any information that is missing, and add notes for the Director with any questions.
Next, I search the internet for examples of costumes/clothing that represent what I think the director has in mind. I pull these pictures into the document under a section labeled “Concept” for each act.
Find the Pieces
Then, I window-shop (online) to find out if appropriate costume pieces are available at a reasonable price. For more information on good, reasonably-priced shopping sources, see my blog entry on sourcing costumes. I screen-shot each piece that I find online and add it to the plan in the act section where that piece will be used. I also copy the page address where the costume piece is found and add it as a link to the picture. This makes it easy to find the piece again once it has been agreed upon. If the garment will be altered for use in the show, I add a note to the slide, outlining how the piece will be changed.
In the first round, I usually provide multiple choices for any costume piece that there is uncertainty about. I also note the actor sizes (see page 19 of the Plan document) for those that will be wearing the costume piece, to make ordering easier when the time comes.
For any piece that needs to be created from scratch, I find and include information (including a picture and notes on any changes needed) about the pattern and fabric that will be needed. If I can find an appropriate fabric online, I include a linked screenshot of the fabric, along with a calculation of the amount and cost of the fabric. (See the robe on p.15 of the Plan for an example of this.)
Back to the Director
Once the plan is complete, I share it with the Director, to confirm that the costumes selected follow what he had in mind, and ask him to make any comments and suggestions as notes in the document. I then review those notes and make any suggested changes or contact the Director for further discussion. This cycle continues until the Director has approved all costume choices, and then I move on to building the costume budget for the show.