Lady Windermere's Fan
Where: Langham Court Theatre
When: Opens 8 p.m. tonight, continues to Dec. 8
Tickets: $19, $21 (250-384-2142)
Producing a handful of antique fans was the least of their worries.
Diane Madill and Susan Ferguson are the costumers for Lady Windermere's Fan, opening tonight at Langham Court Theatre. Their task: outfitting a cast of 24 in period costumes. Task difficulty level: monumental (even with three assistants).
The Victoria Theatre Guild's production of Oscar Wilde's 19th-century classic requires a dozen ball gowns. Constructing a gown from scratch can take as much as 100 hours. Nine were sewn in this manner, each using seven metres of fabric.
These gowns are detailed, with fabric roses, beading, wired flowers with beads, ruffles, tiny pleats, shirring, piping, ribbons and boned bodices.
The costume list includes five "day outfits." There are two velvet capes, one adorned with Swarovski crystals. There are crinolines, jewelry, gloves, purses, head pieces and hats. Fourteen costumes for men were borrowed from wardrobe; however, they all had to be fitted and altered.
It's hard work. And community theatre is staged by volunteers - so of course there's no paycheque.
As opening night approached, Madill and Ferguson sometimes logged 12hour days. On Tuesday evening, before the preview performance, they spent four hours ironing and steaming costumes.
"Everything takes longer than you think it's going to," Ferguson said. "But if the end result is what you had in mind to begin with, it's satisfying."
Madill and Ferguson are pals who started working together four years ago as a Langham Court costuming team. They says they prefer working as a duo - it's more fun.
"We hit it off right away," Madill said. "After I met Susan I went home to my husband and said, 'This is someone I could be a friend with.' "
In Victoria's close-knit theatre community, they have a stellar reputation, especially when it comes to constructing period costumes.
"Diane Madill and Susan Ferguson are wizards of the cloth," said Angela Henry, who directs Lady Windermere's Fan. "[They] are known for the exquisite detail on their outfits, the purity of their design."
Both have fashion backgrounds. Madill studied fashion design at the University of Alberta, taught fashion studies for 30 years and now runs a stylist/ wardrobe consulting company, Elan, with her sister.
Ferguson, originally from England, was taught to sew by her mother and grandmother (the latter an accomplished tailor). In Winnipeg, she had a business designing and making wedding and special-occasion dresses. Her resumÃ© also includes working as a fashion/advertising photographer in the U.K. and a 1970s stint at British Vogue magazine, where she was assistant to David Bailey, the famed fashion photographer.
Ferguson was the first of the two to join the Langham Court crew. She was shopping at a fabric store when by chance she bumped into the costume designer for School for Scandal. Ferguson made a remark that revealed her ability to sew boned bodices - and she was immediately enlisted to make all the women's costumes.
Theatre sounds glam-ourous. The reality is sometimes less so.
Occasionally, an actor will forget the importance of underarm deodorant.
Ferguson says the costumers combat the problem backstage with Febreze and Sweet Pea Linen Spray.
"We wimp out on them [the actors] ourselves and get the stage manager to hand out deodorant," she said.
Ferguson once designed costumes for the inmate troupe at William Head Institution. William Head on Stage mounted a production of Frankenstein that required one costume to be picturesquely slashed to tatters.
Working with the prisoners, it occurred to Ferguson that she was wielding a knife.
Fortunately, the inmates were "all so nice." The costume cutting proceeded without incident.
In any case, there was a back-up plan.
"The [prison officials] had given me a box with a red button, and said I was to put in on my belt. I said, 'Well, what is it?' They said, 'If you find yourself in any kind of situation, just press the red button and we'll send a whole lot of 'blue' to deal with it.' "
So what makes the Madill/Ferguson team do this year after year?
"You don't want to fossilize, do you?" Ferguson said, laughing.
Added Madill: "And Langham's wonderful. It's a whole sort of community.
It's a family."
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