All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players — some better dressed than others.
Of course, at the moment it’s the quantity, not the quality, that is the most striking aspect of the vast cavern of costumes and clothing that occupies the space underneath Syracuse Stage. Walking along the aisles of garments, it’s difficult not to imagine the fallout if Central New York were to suddenly become earthquake prone and a shockwave sent one of the tall shelves tumbling, leaving you buried alive — albeit stylishly — under a mile-deep layer of coats, gowns and pumps.
None of this seems to bother costumer Gretchen Darrow-Crotty and assistant costumer Meggan Camp, both of whom appear perfectly at home amongst the collection of clothing they’ve helped to cultivate and curate for a combined 29-and-a-half years. Their own “costumes” for the day’s photo shoot are a carefully coordinated blend of brilliant blue and crimson, proof that a professional grasp of terms like “color palette” should, in fact, be filed under the heading of everyday life skills.
“Every day we wake up and put clothes on to present ourselves to the world, so that’s our job, essentially. We have to support the person making the choices so that when our actor walks on stage, the audience should be able to tell something about that person without them even opening their mouths,” Camp said.
It’s challenging work, the kind that’s at its best when it goes unnoticed. Still, that’s not stopping Syracuse Stage from offering local theater fans the chance to take a peek behind the curtain this fall with a new Pinterest page dedicated to showing off costumes, sets and props.
Visitors to the page can spy the nautical garb of Moby Dick and the downright extravagant duds of White Christmas, a fantastical holiday musical that invites costumers to cut loose.
Not every show can be Santa suits and ball gowns, though. Most of the time Darrow-Crotty and Camp aren’t trying to turn heads, but fixate them where they belong — on the characters and the story.
It helps that both of them are able to take a balcony-eye view of the stage, where their work operates in tandem with set design, lighting and performance to support the weight of a fictional world.
Darrow-Crotty has been attending theatrical productions with her family since she was 10 years old. By virtue of stage fright, she decided that she’d rather be behind the scenes than in one and has happily spent the last 16-and-a-half years helping visiting costume designers to make the daunting leap from conception to reality.
“This is one of the biggest seasons that we’ve ever done in the costume shop. Typically we produce around, I think last season it was 270 costumes over the course of the entire season for both Syracuse Stage and SU drama. This season we’ll be producing closer to 500 costumes between both seasons. We’re trying to do bigger and better and this is kind of the next step for us,” Darrow-Crotty said.
Her duties on each show typically include buying or renting clothes, pulling garments from stock, arranging fittings and coordinating with the production team.
Costuming, however, is far from a one-woman show, and helping Darrow-Crotty to carry the load is Meggan Camp, who she hired 13 years ago. Camp works primarily with students in the SU drama department, where her biggest responsibility is teaching them to bridge the design gap between paper and the stage. It’s a lengthy process that involves savvy spending, multiple trips to the fitting room and trolling for fabric in New York City. The process comes naturally to Camp.
“I had to take a costume construction class and just fell in love with it. It made sense to me, it was logical. And then as I took a design class, I really saw how I could use my training as an actor to support the visual aspect of the character. So it just sort of naturally blended from one aspect of theater to another for me,” Camp said
Both of the costumers value the collaborative nature of their art and the opportunity to help build a character from the ground up.
Last season, Darrow-Crotty designed Syracuse Stage’s production of Red, a play about artist Mark Rothco that took place in the ‘60s. She took great care to ensure that the actors enjoyed a certain amount of input and felt comfortable in their time-warped wardrobe.
“If they trust you, then they go and they embody that character,” Darrow-Crotty said.