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Costume shop prepares for big move out of PBK

  • Summer stock:
    Summer stock:  In addition to the costumes that reside in storage, the work area of the costume shop at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall contains copious amounts of everything necessary for dressing a show. All of it will be relocated to the Dillard Complex this summer as PBK closes for renovations.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Patricia Wesp knows where every last fastener, ribbon and corset resides in the costume shop at William & Mary’s Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall.

She faces the tremendous challenge of shepherding the relocation of 30-plus years’ worth of accumulated volume of costuming and accouterments and making it usable in a new space at the Dillard Complex. PBK Hall will close this summer for renovation work, sending the theatre department to temporary housing for the expected 30-month project.

Wesp, professor of theatre and resident costume designer at W&M since 1983, started working on the impending move in the fall of 2016.

“I think what you have to visualize is trying to stuff a marshmallow through a button hole,” Wesp said. “That’s kind of what it’s going to be like.”

The costume shop at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall. (Photo by Stephen Salpukas)The Costume Society of America’s Angels Project, in conjunction with the CSA’s annual national symposium in Williamsburg, helped pack up W&M theatre’s costume study collection on March 12. Items in the collection are too fragile to be worn any longer and are used in teaching to have students study, draw and make replica garments, Wesp said.

Thirty-five costume historians, textile conservators, curators and skilled volunteers joined with a dozen W&M faculty and students to photograph, document, clean, rehang and repack garments in preparation for storage during the relocation. The costumes in the collection were mostly donated, and the oldest dates to approximately 1840 to 1850.

Costumes were either hung on racks or folded, wrapped in tissue paper and put into special boxes to protect them while in storage.

“It’s a good study collection,” said Margaret Ordoñez, co-director of the Angels Project and professor emerita of textiles and conservation at the University of Rhode Island. “It’s a really good collection for students to be able to see what was typical of a certain time period.”

The costume shop at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall. (Photo by Stephen Salpukas)Corey Strickland ’17 came over from Virginia Beach to help with the project. He majored in psychological sciences at W&M, but after learning to sew while working in the costume department he now works as a tailor.

“I came here not knowing how to sew, not knowing how to drape, not any of that,” Strickland said.

He has worked as a tailor for opera, a stunt company and ballets.

“I’m now currently working as a tailor at the Naval Weapons Station where I’m responsible for not only the Marines, the Navy, but also Army,” Strickland said. “And all of that’s possible because of the opportunities that William & Mary gave me.”

{{youtube:medium:right|Xn2E1vNS5Yo, Costume Society of America Angels Project at W&M}}

Movers relocated the items the CSA had packed later that week, starting to fill up the space in the Patrick Galt House and Gabriel Galt House that theatre will use for costume work and storage for the next two to three years.

Students floated in and out of the PBK costume shop, grabbing materials and working on projects, as Wesp talked about the progress of packing up and moving out. She held a raffia hat brim, folding it into various uses and characters while chatting.

Racks for hanging clothing and shelves for boxes are her most pressing concern about the temporary space, because having things accessible is key to using such a large stock effectively.

“There are definitely things that are fragile that we will probably move ourselves because it’s simpler than trying to explain to someone who doesn’t perhaps know or have the concern,” Wesp said. “We’ll be strapping and taping some things shut that are just huge and heavy. But that should keep them secure for our move.

The costume shop at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall. (Photo by Stephen Salpukas)“We are grateful that the heavy equipment for the costume workshops — sewing machine tables, cutting tables, industrial machines, mannequins, storage cabinets — will be handled by professional movers. It couldn’t happen without them.”

Trying to preserve rather than throw out and replace materials has limited the amount that can be pared down before moving. The task after movers pack and move all the material will be sorting it out in a workable way in the much smaller temporary space.

“We need to create a space where work can occur, which means that probably the volume of stuff that we typically have in the space right now … because there won’t be built-ins, there won’t be things that have been constructed to control and contain stuff, we won’t have it,” Wesp said. “So we’re not going to be able to have as much stuff accessible in that space probably as we do now.”