Costume Design for Rapunzel

Costume Designer Pamela Workman is an Assistant Professor at Brenau University. She is the costume designer for GTA’s upcoming production of The Secret Garden, and recently designed costumes for Lexington Children’s Theatre‘s Shooting Stars YouTheatre production of Rapunzel. We ask Pamela to tell us all about this professional opportunity and her process of creating costumes for a fairytale story.

How did this project come about?

This design opportunity came about because I had worked with Octavia Biggs, the director, years ago on another TYA productions. I heard she was in need of a costume designer, so I sent her a text saying “Heard you need a designer. Want to work together again? Call me anytime.” She was instantly on the phone with me and we agreed to work together on Rapunzel.

Did the actor’s ages influence your design choices?

Theatre for Young Audiences focuses on the ages of the audience. You want lots of color and texture and shapes in order to keep Elementary and Middle-School-aged kids interested.

Where did the inspiration for the costumes come from?

The director chooses the final concept for a show. I can offer my input as a designer, but the director has the final stamp of approval. Octavia was pulled towards cubism artwork that was created by the Shooting Stars YouTheatre students. She presented this to the design team and we ran with it.

What elements of the script are shown in the costumes?

The only real descriptions in the script were the long blonde hair that keeps growing. Rapunzel starts the show bald and then her hair keeps growing until it is about 20 feet long. The other description is when Rapunzel dyes all her hair purple and then cuts it off. The main thing about this script is that it rhythmically moves fast and the actors never leave the stage.

What is the process you usually use to approach shows and how did that relate to this one?

I always start with reading the script, then move into a concept meeting. Then multiple design meetings with research, sketches, paperwork, renderings, and troubleshooting. The main obstacle for this production was how to deal with the wigs. I posted in a couple of Facebook groups to get some ideas. In the end, I came up with my own solution of a series of braids that clip on. Twenty-six yards of silk were used for the braids and I used Shibori dye techniques to create them in my kitchen.

How often are you in contact with the director?

I was in contact with the director via meetings every two weeks until the designs were approved. Once the cubism style was chosen, Octavia pretty much let me go with what my brain gravitated towards. Then I worked on my own and built the show. Fellow GTA faculty Terri Becker and Celeste Morris, along with my kids, helped me paint the final looks.

What is the nature of the costumes, in terms of build? Did you get overalls and paint/design over them, or did you build overalls from scratch with designs printed?

I had to invent the Thai fisherman pants. Those don’t exist in life. For the overall dress and overalls I used patterns from JoAnn Fabrics. I took the children’s artwork that was commissioned for this project and had them printed on fabric. Those were strategically placed on the bleached muslin shells, then I drew out and painted to continue the children’s artwork through the entire costume. I never saw the costumes on the actors until I showed up in Kentucky for first dress. That was the first and only time they were fitted into costumes.