Tailor-Made Solution For Theaters' Costume Problem

Jul 26, 2018

Creating costumes for local theater productions is expensive. With so many theaters in the Monterey Bay area, the work of a costume designer can also be redundant. So a non-profit is working to create a costume co-op.

Costume designer Ziona Goren is busing making costumes. Her sewing table is covered in spools of thread. There’s a heap of colorful fabrics in the corner.

Goren works for Pacific Repertory Theatre, or Pac Rep. The costume shop is in their downtown Carmel theater. It’s currently full of costumes for Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The show opens mid-August, starring a princess named Ariel and villain Ursula.

“This is Ariel and this is her skirt. That's Ursula's wig right there, you probably recognize,” Goren says.

Costumes can get expensive, so Goren gets creative.

“I try to do things without spending much, pushing on my imagination. You know, that's part of the fun. But you still are going to spend something somewhere. And more so, it’s very, very time consuming,” says Goren.

Pac Rep does 10 productions a year. After each show, the costumes are stored in an old military warehouse on former Ft. Ord.

Pac Rep Founder and Executive Director Stephen Moorer walks inside. The rent is free but there’s a tradeoff. No electricity. So Moorer uses his phone’s flashlight to sift through furs hanging on a rack. It’s not just dark; it’s also damp in here.

“It gets musty and then the costumes get musty. So our cleaning costs go up. Free storage is common among nonprofits but it's usually in rundown warehouses, or you know, in tents outside or what have you,” says Moorer.

Pac Rep has thousands of costumes. So it shares them. That gives the costumes a second life on stage. And Moorer says it saves local schools and other theaters from building from scratch.

“It's such a shame to build 30 choir robes and then find out that you could have borrowed them for nothing,” says Moorer.

But there’s a big obstacle to sharing. No one really knows each other’s inventories and there’s no real system for sharing.

Reg Huston believes he has a solution. He’s the Executive Director of the S.T.A.R. Foundation, a local nonprofit which supports the arts. His idea is a costume co-op; one location where multiple Monterey County theater companies could store and share their costumes.

He envisions a spacious building. Each theater would have their own area to keep or rent out their costumes. Then there would be the co-op section.

“Where all those different groups would offer certain costumes that they feel would be good and workable for everybody that can be shared from production to production amongst all the groups that are in the co-op,” Huston says.

There would be space for costume designers to work and students to learn how to sew.  The S.T.A.R. foundation has pledged $90,000 toward the building and is now fundraising for the rest. Huston is looking for a building with a long lease or one to buy.

“I would like it to be a space that is fully funded. So that the arts organizations not only save money because of their sharing, their cooperativeness, but then won't have to spend that money on rent,” Huston says.

And can spend it on the shows. During a night rehearsal for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s sisters twirl and sing in unison.

The actresses are wearing T-shirts. But soon, they’ll be in neon colors and sequins.  

Pac Rep Costume Designer Ziona Goren hopes the costumes she and others create will have a safe and permanent place to go with the costume co-op. Pac Rep’s warehouse has gotten so bad that it’s in the process of moving their costumes to another location. But their next place comes with a rent and it’s only temporary.

“I need to know that those are in, that they're cared for.  You know, craftsmanship is disappearing and these things have imagination and they have a life in them,” Goren says.

And the costumes could have a longer life in the co-op. Huston says at least nine different theater companies and schools are interested in joining.