Opening Shot: Master of the Thread
by Angie Merkley (’16)
In the basement of the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts, the hum of sewing machines reverberates down the halls. Below the stages that present spectacular plays, concerts, and musicals is the costume shop, directed by Erin West. Garments, designs, and swatches are scattered around the room in which a playwright’s vision and a costume designer’s interpretation are brought to life. Erin is in her second year as Westminster’s first full-time costume professor, which includes teaching classes in costume and makeup as well as designing all of the shows for the college. With degrees in studio art, theatre, and costume design, Erin is no novice in the theatre-fashion world.
“I love being able to read a play, imagine the world of the play with a director, do research and drawings that bring our imaginings into a form we can show other people, and then make those into reality,” Erin says.
For Erin, costumes help tell the story of the play and give the audience some clues about character and context. “The goal of good costume design is for the clothing to feel so natural and integral to the character and story that the audience doesn’t even realize how much information they are being given,” Erin says. “These are important details about the characters and story that we can convey to the audience without a single word.”
Creating costumes for productions is a lengthy, tedious process for Erin. For plays and musicals, she reads the script at least three times to gain a sense of the story, weather, time period, and other circumstances that will inform her about what characters are wearing. Next come research, sketches, color renderings, and, only then, will a costume begin to be physically formed. “Then we release it into the wild so that the audience can see it,” Erin says.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.