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Sunday, April 14, 2024
Costumes Come Alive for The Horse and His Boy

The characters and creatures of Narnia are coming to life under the talented hands of the cutters and seamstresses in the Shaw Festival costume department.

A quiet energy hums through the room, sewing machines whirring, fabric swatches and sketches posted all over the walls, and cutting tables covered in pattern pieces. With less than a month to the April 6 opening of “The Horse and His Boy,” the process is well underway.  

Janet Ellis, Associate Head of Wardrobe surveys the busy scene with a smile, admiring the rich fabrics and whimsical touches.

“The characters travel through different lands in Narnia, and they change colour to reflect the different lands,” she explains. “Each character has a base costume, and then elements of it will change to different shades as their adventures lead them from place to place. The bad guy, for example will have capes of different colours.”

The work behind creating the costumes began months ago, says Ellis, and it’s an interactive process. The designer and director begin by talking about the concepts, then serious shopping for the fantastical fabrics starts in January.

Sketches are made, patterns are cut, and first fittings lead to necessary adjustments. “There is creativity throughout the process,” says Ellis, “so much happens in the moment.”

Prototype headpiece for Aslan. (Jill Troyer/Niagara Now/The Lake Report)

Ellis points to a headpiece that’s been created for Aslan, the majestic lion in Narnia, noting it’s really a prototype, and could still change dramatically between now and opening night. Nearby, Sadie Ducroix is modelling a prototype for hooves, and notes there are always logistics to work out, as well as the look. Ellis elaborates, “We have to consider what the actors are doing, are they rolling on the ground, or leaping across the scene?” There are a lot of animals in “The Horse and His Boy”, and one consideration is to be sure any headgear, such as horns or rabbit ears, are both lightweight and stable.

Boot and shoe specialist Sadie Ducroix works on animal hooves. (Jill Troyer/Niagara Now/The Lake Report)
Rabbit headpiece, whimsical, lightweight, and stable. (Jill Troyer/Niagara Now/The Lake Report)

Senior sewers Erin Huitema and Rebecca Boyd bend their heads to careful hand stitching. Boyd says sewing is much like painting a room, “there’s so much prep, and it’s time consuming, but it makes the painting go faster and look better.” She adds, “by the time we get to the sewing machine, it can take just minutes to complete the item we’ve prepared.” The costumes are made for easy re-use, with wide seam allowances and modular pieces, such as collars, that can be changed for different purposes in the future. Once the play has closed, the costumes will move to the wardrobe warehouse, to join the 20,000 other items housed there.

Senior sewers Erin Huitema and Rebecca Boyd at work. (Jill Troyer/Niagara Now/The Lake Report)

Ellis says the “hardest thing for me is to be sitting in the audience and see something wrong with a costume, like a loose hem, and not be able to do anything about it.” During production the wardrobe running team takes care of most day to day repairs that are needed, though Ellis says “I have come to work in the past to find a dress hanging on my door, that needed more extensive attention.” Ellis emphasizes that “costumes should reinforce the nature of the character, not distract from it;” adding, “Costumes are part of the storytelling. We love what we do, we all do.”

The actors will don the costumes for one technical rehearsal and two dress rehearsals before the play opens in early April. That won’t mean a rest for the costume department though, by then it will be in full swing creating costumes for a whole new world.

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