Designers scavenge, sew, recycle to help define characters

Jeffrey Meek designs the costumes for Lyric Theater; over in Tulsa, Sara Cruncleton costumes most of the shows at The Nightingale Theater, which she co-owns. Meek has a crew of 13 people, including stitchers and dressers; Cruncleton works with donated costumes and scavenges through the wardrobes of the cast and crew.

However, both serve the same essential purpose of sculpting the audience's first impression of every character.

Lyric Theater recently wrapped up "Swing," which Meek said required 130 costumes. At the time, the costume shop was hurriedly preparing for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Urinetown: The Musical." He said that he loves working with musicals because he isn't hindered by realism.

"Plays tend to have a first-act and a second-act costume, but in a musical, all of a sudden, someone breaks into song and 14 maids run out on stage for two minutes of dancing, and then you never see that dress again. It's sort of a costume parade," Meek said.

The Nightingale is an alternative venue that puts on challenging and experimental theatrical events ranging from raw and realistic drama to absurdist comedy and cabaret. Sometimes the costumes are sparse, as in "A Winter's Tale," for which Cruncleton hit upon the concept of doing the costumes in all-white.

"It was still a lot of found objects, but a lot of made objects as well," she said. "It was beautiful and I only had texture to work with, since it was all one color."

The theater regularly works with a budget of zero, so it takes ingenuity and recycling to dress the cast. But Cruncleton insisted she never settles with any member; she won't send the actor out on stage in anything that doesn't help define the character.

"I am inspired by 'Pretty in Pink,' where she cuts up her prom dress and reinvents it into something fantastic, and that's what I do," Cruncleton said. "I'm also an actress, so I will imagine myself in a role and ask, 'What would I want to wear? What would make me comfortable and best present the character?'"

Meek, on the other hand, might have more resources, but said that his costume shop only gets one fitting with each actor, usually using mock-ups of the actual clothes. Because of that, he doesn't know what the costume actually looks like on the actor until dress rehearsals.

"When we are watching the dress rehearsal and there are no major train wrecks " all the adjustments were made correctly, nothing stands out, no directors are mad at me, no actors are mad at me " when everybody is happy " then we've done our job," he said.

Meek said he is giddy with anticipation for Lyric's upcoming performance of "The Rocky Horror Show," debuting Oct. 9.  

"I am so excited. We are doing Seventies glam rock, which is fun for us," he said. "'Hello Dolly' is all ball gowns, which are great, fun and pretty, but every once in a while, it's fun to pull out some leather, pull out some studs and do something that is totally different."  "Charles Martin

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