Toward the end of lunch on even days, junior Kaitlen Cerney heads to the Nasher-Haemisegger Family Center for the Arts to work with Drama and Fine Arts Coordinator Susan Hubbard for her independent study: Costume Design.
Last spring, after performing with the concert choir and show choir for two years, Cerney decided to try something new. She wanted to fill her time and explore a new passion.
“A lot of my family members didn’t want me to drop choir because they wanted to see me perform,” Cerney said. “But I’d rather be behind the stage.”
So last May, after hours of research and brainstorming with Hubbard, Cerney asked Hubbard to sponsor her for an independent study in costume design.
At Hockaday, independent studies, which are graded as pass or fail, “are designed for the advanced student who wishes to pursue a special interest,” according to the Hockaday Course Catalogue. The student and the teacher must complete a proposal form in which they fill out the specific objectives, the reason for the project, actual work to be completed, and a schedule of meeting times.
“We talked about creating an area for costumes and a theater that would be useful to the actors,” Hubbard said regarding the focus for the independent study. “I told her that this would be a great opportunity for [Kaitlen] to be on the ground floor to help figure out the organizational process of how we sort costumes, keep them organized and catalogued.”
Head of Upper School Terry Murray approved the independent study at the beginning of this school year, and Cerney and Hubbard have been meeting in Hubbard’s office to research costume design, go through the inventory of costumes at Hockaday and brainstorm ideas for costumes in upcoming Hockaday performances.
“[Cerney and I] are doing very basic things currently, like basic hemming and basic design from a raw dress that we want to alter,” Hubbard said. “For the rest of the year, we’ve discussed picking out a pattern, going into the sewing process in terms of cutting out the pattern, picking the fabric and creating something original from fabric.”
And Cerney is not new to costume design. In the 2014-2015 school year, Cerney, a freshman at the time, wanted to work on sound design for the St. Mark’s fall play, “The Hounds of the Baskervilles,” because her old career goal was to run a record label. But the costumes crew approached her and asked her to work instead on costume design—they needed more members.
Since then, Cerney has worked on the costumes crew for a multitude of performances. This school year, Cerney was the head of costumes for “The Boxer” and is doing the same for this year’s Hockaday Upper School musical, Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast,”
As head of costumes for “The Boxer,” Cerney researched the time period of the play, late 1910s to early ‘20s, by looking in books, on websites and in movies. After ordering costumes from websites and borrowing from the costume collection at Hockaday, Cerney decided the costume and color scheme for each character in the play.
“I start by creating a mood board with ideas on how the clothes of the time period looked, then I go to the costume closet and create a rack of anything that I think might fit into the aesthetic of the production,” Cerney said. “After I have a good amount of costumes to chose from, I start trying things on the cast.”
Although most of the costumes were already made, some needed a specific look and had to be designed and produced. Cerney created a fairy dress worn by freshman Lily Forbes, one of the fairies in the play. Starting with a plain white dress, she dyed it purple, brown and an assortment of colors. Then, Cerney sewed on scraps of fabric, ripped the dress up and sewed more scraps on to the dress under the supervision of Hubbard.
Cerney learned how to do basic hand sewing last year when Hubbard taught her how to hand stitch all of tulle, lace and other fabrics onto the dress.
“I thought the final product was really cool because [the dress] started out so plain, but [Cerney] made it into something totally different,” Forbes said. “Whenever you put on a costume, it really makes you feel like the character.”
After “The Boxer” ended, Cerney and Hubbard began to brainstorm ideas for “Disney’s Beauty and The Beast” musical, which they pin on an idea board in the costumes space.
“It’s inspiring to look at the idea boards, because they spark a thought about putting a feather or changing the buttons or adding something that you wouldn’t have thought of if you hadn’t done the research,” Hubbard said.
And as soon as the cast for the Disney musical was announced, Cerney and Hubbard started looking at each character and got measurements and shoe sizes. For this musical, the majority of the costumes will be rented from Rose Costumes, a costume store in Denton, Texas. However, Cerney and Hubbard hope to use some of the same costumes used for “Fiddler on the Roof,” the Upper School musical in 2012, to achieve the country-folk, fairy-tale look in the tavern scene of “Beauty and The Beast.”
In May, at the end of the school year, Cerney will begin to replenish the stock of costumes, fabrics and other materials needed for next year. After the announcement of the 2017-2018 Hockaday theatre season, Cerney will start researching the time periods and brainstorming ideas for the costumes in next school year’s performances.
“When I go and see a performance, I am always looking at the costumes, because that is what draws me into the play, musical or dance,” Cerney said.
Maria Harrison – Assistant Features Editor