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Surprise! Costume designer restores Glenn Close's W&M costumes

  • Surprise!
    Surprise!  Actress Glenn Close '74 reacts to seeing her William & Mary costumes in the Muscarelle Museum on Friday.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Surprise for a star
    Surprise for a star  Costume Designer Patricia Wesp (right) holds a sketch for a costume that Glenn Close wore as a student at William & Mary. Wesp, with the help of emeritus theatre professor Jerry Bledsoe, was able to restore three of Close's W&M costumes to include in an upcoming Muscarelle Museum exhibition, which features some of Glenn's Hollywood costumes.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Devil is in the details
    Devil is in the details  Getting the William & Mary costumes exhibition ready took attention to detail, like this ornate trim.  Photo by Patricia Wesp
  • Headdress fit for a queen
    Headdress fit for a queen  Wesp also restored this headdress that Close wore in the W&M theatre production of "Antony and Cleopatra." The original headdress was created by Bledsoe.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Whatever it takes
    Whatever it takes  A little MacGyver-like ingenuity brought the headdress back to life.  Photo by Patricia Wesp
  • Boxes of history
    Boxes of history  The theatre department keeps and reuses many of the costumes and accessories in its inventory.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Close in costume
    Close in costume  An original sketch by Bledsoe shows one of the costumes that Close wore in the W&M production of "Brigadoon." Bledsoe, who designed the costume, found this sketch in his files.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Initially Glenn's
    Initially Glenn's  Glenn Close's initials were written on the inside of this costume. She was Glenn Close Wade while at W&M.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Remembering Glenn
    Remembering Glenn  As a member of the Class of 1976, Wesp’s time as a student at William & Mary overlapped somewhat with Close’s. Although she did not keep the costumes out of some sort of precognitive insight into Close's impending stardom, Wesp said that Close was a unique student.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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A secret mission was underway this summer in a Phi Beta Kappa Hall room full of feathers, fabric and faceless mannequins. It may not have been a mission worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it was a mission intended to surprise a Hollywood star who once lit up the William & Mary stage.

This morning, award-winning actress and W&M alumna Glenn Close ’74 got an unexpected look back at her time at the university when she was presented with three costumes that she wore as a theatre student here. The costumes, from W&M productions of Brigadoon, The Seagull and Antony and Cleopatra, will be on display in the Muscarelle Museum of Art as part of the exhibition “Glenn Close: A Life in Costume,” which opens to the public Sunday.

{{youtube:medium|keKdzHQfKlU, Glenn Close at W&M: The Costumes}}

Close and her husband David Shaw are on campus this weekend to accept the Cheek Award Medal for their contributions to the arts. They will also be participating in several other activities while on campus, including the second annual alumni Arts & Entertainment Festival. Close will headline this year’s event with a special Q&A and discussion about her career and roles in film and theatre.

When news about Close’s visit broke earlier this year, Patricia Wesp, William & Mary costume designer in the Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance, was asked if she might be interested in recreating one of Close’s costumes.

“I said, ‘Yes, but why should we? They are hanging in storage. Why don’t we pull them out?’” she said. “Everyone was astonished, but that’s what we do. We reuse inventory.”

Glenn Close in a publicity photo for the production of ''Brigadoon'' (courtesy of Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center)One of the three costumes required very little work to get it ready for display: a dress from a 1973 William & Mary production of Brigadoon. It just needed some cleaning and new elastic, which is to be expected in a 40-year-old costume, said Wesp.

“Everyone who has talked to me is a little bit flabbergasted that nothing has happened to the dress from Brigadoon,” she said. “Well, think about it. We renovate things and reuse them. That’s part of our stock; that’s why we keep stuff. But musical comedy, 18th century, Scottish highlands, sort of water-color palette? How many plays can you think of off the top of your head where it would be appropriate to reuse these garments? … So there are quite a few things from that show that have never been reused again because they are so specific to that piece.”

Another costume, a dress from a 1973 production of The Seagull, was more of a Frankenstein-like project.

“Some of it was created new, and some of it was created from parts from another dress,” said Wesp. “It had been separated and has now been put back together.”

Glenn Close in a publicity photo for the production of ''Antony and Cleopatra'' (courtesy of Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center)The third costume, a dress that Close wore in a 1972 production of Antony and Cleopatra, required much more effort.

“The Cleopatra dress was the one most heavily used and reinvented, so restoring it back to its original shape involves some requisition of materials and some replication of some of the original details on it that I have no idea what became of them,” said Wesp. “Other parts are here and need to be resuscitated.”

In addition to the three costumes, Wesp also restored an Egyptian headpiece that Close wore in the finale of Antony and Cleopatra. The dress that it went with was a “useful” shell and was repurposed many times over the years and no longer exists, said Wesp. However, the story goes that Close had to be sewn into that dress as she walked down the hall to go onto stage.

In order to make the costumes look as close to their original configurations as possible, Wesp used photographs from the Special Collections Research Center at Swem Library. Some of the photos were from the performances themselves, showing what the costumes finally looked like on stage. Others were promotional photos, which provide clear, close-up views of the costumes. However, costumes are usually not completed – sometimes far from it – when promotional photos are taken, said Wesp.

Luckily, Wesp had other resources to draw from: her own memory and the memories of her predecessor, emeritus theatre professor and Virginia Shakespeare Festival founder Jerry Bledsoe who worked directly with Close.

With the help of Bledsoe and costume shop manager Mary Jo Damon, Wesp was able to find some of the original costuming details in storage and used her creativity (and some online shopping) to fill in the gaps.

Although Wesp’s summer was consumed with costuming the Virginia Shakespeare Festival and preparing to costume the upcoming W&M theatre production of Dancing at Lughnasa, she managed to complete the restoration work on all three costumes and the headpiece in time for the arrival of her fellow W&M alumna back on campus.

As a member of the Class of 1976, Wesp’s time as a student at William & Mary overlapped somewhat with Close’s. Although she did not keep the costumes out of some sort of precognitive insight into Close’s impending stardom, Wesp said that Close was a unique student.

“She was not the typical underclassman,” said Wesp. “She had been working in the performing profession, and when she came to the College, she could have gone on to do anything she wanted to. She was one of those people. She just had the intellectual and academic capability to have gone wherever.”

As Wesp finished work on her secret mission this summer, she looked forward to seeing Close’s reaction to her old costumes and then talking to her about them.

“She might have her own stories about what happened in them,” Wesp said.