Tales of a Trainee - Charlotte Campbell's Blog
Charlotte Campbell is Scottish Opera’s first ever Leverhulme Trust Costume Trainee.
In her blog – Tales of a Trainee - she tells us about life in the Wardrobe Department, and the projects and productions she's working on.
Charlotte recently graduated from Wimbledon College of Art with a degree in Costume Interpretation.
Charlotte at work in the Scottish Opera
Wardrobe Department. Photo by John Liddell.
January to April 2014
Working on Don Pasquale was a wonderful way to begin 2014. (And, yes, it’s true: New Year’s Eve in Scotland rules!). Being involved in so many aspects of costume work on this production made me feel really integrated into the department.
I felt really engaged by the design by Andre Barbe. Set in the early Sixties in Rome the designs were bold and colourful – almost cartoon-like. I was given the task of making a cover’s costume for the role of Norina – a big net petticoat and a lime-green floral dress.
Making the petticoat was extremely interesting. The foundations of any garment are so key to the overall look, so I am always keen to try all sorts of different shapes. I was shown how to construct it by a maker who is so savvy in the ways of net petticoats. I was then handed the pieces of the top dress from the cutter who had drafted the dress earlier, and tasked with sewing it together. Working through a complete costume in this way was extremely satisfying. And when the understudy had to go on during the tech rehearsal I was so excited to see the piece on stage.
But I can’t leave out my great experience with making a fat suit for one of Don Pasquale’s elderly guests! I did get quite a few funny looks from anyone who happened to be walking through the workroom! To use really technical, serious words: I had to construct a big bum and old-lady boobs. I started with a previously made pregnancy padded body suit and built up the bust on top of that, then built the bum from a pair of control pants which then poppered on to the pregnancy belly. It was fun – and very funny. The hardest part was trying to google photo references at work. I’m still not confident on how to word that search…
I had the chance to move on to dressing this show at both the Theatre Royal in Glasgow and the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. It was extremely helpful to go back to something and feel so much more confident about it. When I first started my traineeship and was dressing the other Don – Don Giovanni – for its last few shows, I hadn’t had any previous experience. This time I felt I knew what I was going to do from the get-go which was reassuring – and good to be able to dress from start to finish – and see the job of dressing as a whole.
I also recently worked on the running wardrobe side of Verdi’s Macbeth, a revival from 2005. After dressing Don Pasquale I did want to see what running wardrobe did in the very early stages of a show, in rehearsals, for example, including getting the whole kit and kaboodle moved from the rehearsal space in Edington Street south of the river to the Citizens Theatre where the production opened. It has been genuinely exciting to learn and understand what it takes to get a show up and running. I also now have experience of slitting someone’s throat! Because the show is a small scale production, there isn’t always a hair and makeup artist on hand, so I was shown how to create a slit throat, which was really exciting!
And having pulled and pushed performers into their costumes over a number of months now – the department asked if I would mind having the tables turned for one night. At an evening demonstration of wigs, make- up and costumes for Friends and Patrons of Scottish Opera, I modelled a rather fetching black number from a past production of The Magic Flute and a wonderful blue wig!
Three great operas, three of Scotland’s great theatres – and a fat suit. What more could I ask?
November & December 2013
I was chucked straight into sewing on my first day and, although I wasn’t prepared for it, it was a really great way to begin. I had managed to go through school and university without using an industrial sewing machine. So my first task was getting used to that! They are much faster than domestic machines so I took it for a test spin. I started off making stock pieces as Don Giovanni was on tour at the time.
I began by making shirts and chemises for stock, each one varying slightly in decoration so performers will never look like weird clones on stage.
I also got my first taste of organising stock costumes. Each has to be stored according to historical era and size. I found this very satisfying, looking at huge long rails of costumes all neatly line up in order.
Also in my first week I went through to Edinburgh to dress the last five shows of Don Giovanni. I was really excited about this because I had never dressed a show before. On my first three shows I dressed the men’s chorus, which included two quick changes. It made me pretty nervous having to do quick changes, but we had 7 minutes to do them in so it was a good way to be eased into the process. I was equally busy - although with no quick changes - and a bit more confident moving over to the women’s chorus. I have much more experience with women's wear so I felt like I was winging it less. The atmosphere in the dressing room was great and I was involved in every aspect of the process. These pieces involve a kind of layering up starting with a chemise, a bum roll, a petticoat, a top skirt and a bodice and corset combined (something I didn’t realize they did, and was really interesting to learn!) And each piece fastens at the back. It was excellent seeing these pieces in a functional setting as wearable costumes.
Charlotte worked on the recent production of Don
Back at base in Glasgow, there were a few hard days graft getting all the costumes cleaned and prepped for travel as the production will next been seen in Boston. I was never sure what working in wardrobe entailed, I’m glad I now know, and boy is it tiring!
For the upcoming production of Don Pasquale I have been assembling a toile dress and petticoat for the understudy for the role of Norina. It was really great to be working with pattern pieces cut by a professional cutter, everything fit together beautifully. I was also given the opportunity to pass pins and take notes for alterations in the initial fittings stage. This was great opportunity to look into how professional fittings are run.
Recently I’ve also been working on some Victorian undergarments; a bustle and a corset. I was really pleased to get the opportunity to make this silhouette because I think it’s such a lovely period. It’s also technically really great to know! I want to be able to make as many undergarments as possible, the silhouette of a costume places it in its era, it is incredibly important, so I want to get as much experience with making them as possible! I’ve been asking questions until everyone’s ears are bleeding to make sure I pick up every tip possible along the way.