A sea of details, an ocean of silk: Costuming ‘Romeo and Juliet’
“Romeo and Juliet” is all about the drama. But behind the tragic love scenes and fighting sequences are the delicate details of hand-crafted corsets and metal-hooped farthingales. With any play, it is the details that make or break the production, and at Gonzaga University, Summer Berry is the detail queen.
Above the Magnusson Theatre is Berry’s office. Rows of bright, velvet fabrics are stacked neatly around the room. Her desk is scattered with design manuals and 16th century reference books, pages bookmarked and highlighted. Now in its final week of production, the stress of costuming “Romeo and Juliet” has started to subside.
“I’m really proud of this piece,” said Berry, the costume and marketing coordinator at Gonzaga. “The way the costumes move across the stage, the way they help the actor become Mercutio and Juliet. The costuming enhances the actor.”
Although Berry has worked in Gonzaga’s theatre arts program since 2000, Romeo and Juliet is the first 16th Shakespearian period piece she has costumed. Creating costumes for a production this size takes as much time and creativity as staging the play. Berry started by reading the script over and over.
“I look for things in the dialogue that help to express the character. Then I can enhance that with a costume. ”
After that, Berry heads to the library to research 16th century clothing. As time-consuming as it is looking through dozens of costuming reference books, it’s Berry’s favorite part of her role:
“The research and creativity are one of the reasons I’m a costume designer and not a ready-made clothing designer. When I went to college, I loved the expressiveness of being a costume designer.”
Next, Berry took her vision to the director, Father Kevin Connell, S.J.
“We call it realizing a design,” Berry says. “With ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ Father Connell had very specific ideas on the kind of things he wanted.”
For instance, a specific color palette would distinguish the two families and rich brocade and velvet textures.
“He wanted the Capulets to be in the color world of gold and the Montagues in the color world of red. He wanted to separate out Prince and Paris and Mercutio into the world of purples.”
Berry gets out her sketch pad and starts drawing.
“I add color to my drawings and then I start shopping. I search all the fabric stores to find the palettes and textures and hope and pray they have enough fabric. For the nurse’s dress, I used nine yards of 60-inch wide fabric. The gowns alone have a minimum of six yards. And there are five gowns.”
Another issue was finding shoes to fit everyone, including basketball players Steven Gray and Kelly Olynyk, who played Tybalt and Romeo’s friend, Abraham.
“It was difficult buying foot wear that looked period but worked for the fight scenes. Size 14 shoes are hard to come by.”
But no costuming issue came close to the time restraints.
“Time really escaped me,” Berry said. “We only have six weeks from the time casting goes up to the production. And having never done 16th century Italian before, I didn’t know how long each item would take.”
Fortunately, Berry had a team to help out. The week before the play opened, Berry called in several former students to sew on snaps and hooks and handle other finishing touches. Stephanie O’Dell, a junior who has worked with Berry for two years, created Romeo’s jacket and sewed all the men’s billowing white shirts.
“I’ve learned a lot about fashion, fabrics and time management working with Summer. I’ve learned how organize and work hard. Summer is a really great instructor.” Stephanie said she hopes her skills will lead her to a job in fashion advertising.
Berry’s own career stems from ninth grade, when she helped make costumes for “The Wizard of Oz.” Margaret Hamilton, who played the wicked witch in the “Oz” movie, happened to be performing at the Seattle Rep. She came to a performance and approached Summer after the show.
“She complimented me and said, ‘This is what you should be doing.’ ”
And Berry has been doing it ever since.
– Stephanie Brooks (’11)