Goodspeed’s Costume Warehouse Keeps Expanding, It’s Education Programs Do Also

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Photos Courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals

By Karen Isaacs

Glenn Close’s iconic gown from Sunset Boulevard, one of Annie’s dresses from Annie, Dolly’s famous red gown from Hello, Dolly!, Alex Baldwin’s suit from A Streetcar Named Desire and much, much more.

In fact, nearly 250,000 costumes and accessories are stored at Goodspeed’s costume collection warehouse in East Haddam.

It began in the 1980s when the theater began purchasing costumes from Broadway shows and tours that were closing. It has grown since then to include not just costumes from Broadway but also from Opera productions.

It includes everything from hates, gloves, purses, shoes, gowns, suits, shirts and even pantaloons are stored there. For anyone who would love to play “dress up” it is a dream come true.

The entire collection is carefully organized by show, period, and maintained in a temperature controlled environment.

The collection is used by costumes designers from throughout the world – for inspiration, for information and to supplement existing costumes.  Often theaters and producers will rent costumes for ensemble members in a tour or even in a Broadway show. Sometimes they rent just a particular purse or hat or tie for a production.

Just last year, costume designer Gregg Barnes for Goodspeed’s The Drowsy Chaperone used some of the costumes in the collection from the Broadway production. Barnes, a three time Tony winner, was the designer of the original production; he drew on some of the costumes from that show and from other shows that he had designed and were in the collection to supplement new designs.

Few people get to see the entire facility of the costume warehouse. A dozen or so pieces are in mannequins in the lobby but even these are no open hours to view them; tours through education department are the best way.  The reason for the limited access is due to main function of the warehouse – to store the costumes, to handle rentals from theaters across the country and to maintain the collection. Limited staffing makes it impossible for the displays to be open to the public.

If you want a full tour, one way of doing it is by being part of a group that attends the show.

The Goodspeed Education Department offers groups who purchase tickets to shows, the option of adding on a variety of activities and tours to enhance the experience.  One of these is a visit to the costume warehouse.

According to Erin Coffey, education director, groups can have a talk back after the performance with members of the cast or select from other options that include talks about the theater’s history, a full tour of all of the theater’s facilities, workshops with professionals and more. It can make a fascinating day.

Wesleyan’s Institute for Lifelong Learning will be enjoying a full day at Goodspeed, including a matinee performance of Billy Elliot at Saturday, Oct. 19.

Not only will this group visit the costume warehouse, the group will have a “master class” on how costume design works including how designers generate ideas, do research and how costumes help performers “become” their characters.

In addition the group will visit the prop shop, have a box lunch, attend performance and enjoy a talkback with cast members afterwards.

This is not the ILL’s first visit to Goodspeed. In the spring of 2018, a group attended The Will Rogers Follies and visited some other parts of the Goodspeed campus.

Scheduling these educational field trip visits for groups coming to Goodspeed, is just one of the initiatives of the education department.

“Goodspeed has been providing services to adult professionals and aspiring professionals for some time,” Coffey said.

These have included one week intensive programs that can range from scenic/set painting to music direction and more. The programs are aimed at professionals, college students, graduate students and theater professors who want to either brush up on skills or improve skills. During the production season, an observership program allows professionals to observe directors, choreographers, music directors and other at work.

In the last few years, Goodspeed has created opportunities for elementary and secondary level students from the Connecticut community. “We wanted to interact more with our community, and help introduce children to theater,” Coffey said. “Many professional theaters in Connecticut, offer youth programs, but none in our areas. We wanted to fill the gaps.”

For the production of Oliver! in summer 2018, the Kids Company was formed. Twelve young people from 7 to 18 attended workshops and classes on theater and then were part of the ensemble in the production.

Last year, the department conducted a series of master classes for students.  Eight classes were held with more than 70 young people attending one or more of the master classes. These included everything from acting and singing to song writing.

This fall, 40 students from throughout eastern Connecticut are attending the Kids Company Academy which includes training is singing, dancing, acting and a musical theater workshop. Participants can select one or more of the classes that meet weekly. At the end of each semester, a showcase is held.

According to Coffey, the kids are not only enthusiastic but are learning about musical theater, improving their skills and making friends.

One of the participants in last year’s master classes, Ava Loughlin, was the understudy for the role of Opal in Because of Winn Dixie.

Coffey said that the education program will continue to look for new ways to interact with the community, to foster a love of theater among children and to assist professionals.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.

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