Dartmouth's costume shop combines disciplines from across the campus. In the basement of the Hopkins Center, carefully calibrated vats of dyeing chemicals bubble away, while in the next room, fabric is stitched with an engineer's exactitude to support an actress who must sing, dance, and fly across the stage. Books with drawings of 19th-century corsets rest on the counters, while splayed open to the appropriate page is the all-important play script.
According to Margaret Spicer, professor of theater and Dartmouth's costume designer, costumes have been constructed on campus for as long as there have been theater productions. In the 1930s, Professors Henry Williams and Warner Bentley led costume-design efforts. The organization of a formal costume-design shop coincided with the Hopkins Center opening in 1962. Spicer says the design shop will create costumes for 17 productions this year alone. These include three major main-stage productions, several of the six New York Theater Workshop plays, the Frost Play Festival of three student-written one-act plays, and eight Shakespeare Alley Showcase productions.
Dartmouth junior Micah Dortch, from East St. Louis, is one of seven undergraduates currently working in the shop. Dortch says he first came by to see if he could get a button fixed. "They told me they wouldn't fix the button," he says, "but they would teach me how to do it myself."
Dortch, who sings in three musical groups, says it was interesting to participate in a production from behind the curtain. "It reminds me of very basic, earthy skills," he says. "The idea of cutting and stitching-things people forget about."
Nari Park, a sophomore from New York City, says one of the most important skills she's developed while working in the shop has been patience. "Sewing bound buttonholes for three hours straight was difficult," she says. "I can't even study for that long."
Park says she was intrigued by the shop as a prospective student after walking outside, past the ground-level windows, looking at the people sewing inside.
"I just couldn't believe that a place like this existed," she says. "It's one of the things that made me want to come to Dartmouth."
- By James Donnelly
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Last Updated: 5/30/08