Costume Sale Aims to Augment Theater Department Budget

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Author: Alexa Soriano

The airiness of the Keck Theater costume shop lent an openness and freedom to the haphazard collection of articles stored there. Upon entering, a length of mismatched tables covered by sewing machines of all kinds greeted customers. The room was littered with busts, spools and rolls of fabric. Boxes boasting proud labels of accessories, colors of fabrics and unfinished costumes spilled out over the edges of shelves.

In the room, old costumes hung patiently on a rack. The worn fabric of past theater productions had been pulled down from the rafters once again. For the first time in five years, the Theater department offered its used costumes for sale to the public.

From Oct. 25 to 29, the Keck Theater welcomed students and community members into its shop to pick up a piece of yesterday’s fashion at low cost. Sales benefited the theater department’s inventory of equipment.

Because the department puts on multiple full-length stage productions each year, space in the building’s storage rafters was dwindling. This year, Theater Costume Designer Tom Slotten and assistants decided to revisit the old garments.

Slotten remembered the costume sale held in Keck five years ago and decided it was time to stage another.

To prepare for the event, costume shop staff pulled years’ worth of outmoded costumes out of the storage room hidden high above the stage at the top of the theatre building. Many of the outfits have been stored at Occidental since the 1980s.

Over the years, several local theaters have donated costumes to Occidental after their own productions have wrapped up. Most of the costumes purchased at the sale, however, were crafted by Occidental’s own costume department.

It is virtually impossible to have too wide a selection of costumes in a theatre department, but the lack of space made it necessary to get rid of some.

The sale offered the garments at $2 or $5 each, and split them up into sections for different historical eras. The more inventive and non-traditional of the bunch were placed in an area marked “fairy tale,” as they otherwise did not belong under any other established label.

“Those were the easiest to get rid of because they don’t belong in any category,” costume shop employee Isadora Zanon (sophomore) said.

Students looking for Halloween costumes rushed to the sale in anticipation of what they might find. Some hoped the magic of the theater still clung to the threads of the costumes, helping them to assume their Halloween personas.

Others simply hoped that the selection and low prices justified a spontaneous purchase. “I got this old-fashioned blouse just because,” Kara McVey (sophomore) said.

By the second day, only one rack remained on the floor. Shoppers had bought all costumes on the $5 rack.

As the two-day event wound down, shoppers proposed creative ways to revamp costumes.

Late Tuesday, two women from the community browsed through the shop’s lingering products, discussing how some of the older and more worn pieces could be reused.

One of the women held up a ragged dress to compare it to the pieces of a shinier, more brightly patterned dress. Together they discovered that the old piece could be combined with the new to create something completely unique.

Slotten expected the very sort of enthusiasm and ingenuity that buyers showed. “It seemed to be fun and helpful for some folks,” he said, and cited the adage that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

When doors closed Tuesday, Slotten was pleased with the outcome and Keck’s newfound storage space.

“The sale was very successful for us,” Slotten said.

Though the primary purpose of the sale was to clear up space, the money that was raised from selling the costumes will go toward purchasing new equipment for the costume shop.

“The money will go toward buying a wig drying cabinet which will help make our wig work more complete and satisfying,” Slotten said.

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