BY ELAINA LOVELAND
THESPIAN ALUM GRACE WHITE was in her senior government class when her phone buzzed. An email had arrived, congratulating her and offering a one-of-a-kind summer internship at The Costumer, a bustling costuming company that works on more than 1,000 theatrical productions annually. To celebrate 100 years in the business, The Costumer was inviting one lucky creative Thespian to intern at their headquarters in Schenectady, New York.
White was both stunned and thrilled to get the offer. “I totally spazzed out of excitement,” recalls White, formerly of Troupe 6188 at Bothell (Washington) High School. “I couldn’t believe it!” White spent two weeks working at the company’s upstate headquarters and another week in New York City, meeting costumers and observing backstage at Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
The Costumer, which provides costumes and accessories to scholastic, professional, and amateur theatres across the country, wanted to commemorate their milestone by cultivating the next generation of talent. “We felt it was an appropriate time to have an intern because of our one hundredth anniversary,” says Danielle Patton, assistant costume designer at The Costumer. “We have a strong focus on scholastic theatre, and it seemed like a natural extension to have an intern from the International Thespian Society come for a couple weeks and learn about how we do things here.”
White began her journey as a participant in the International Thespian Society’s National Individual Events program, in which Thespians receive constructive feedback on prepared theatrical material and technical designs. After months of work and preparation, she presented her costume renderings for Into the Woods as part of the NIE program at the International Thespian Festival. She received a superior rating, granting her eligibility to apply for The Costumer’s inaugural internship.
White’s whirlwind first day began with a tour of all of the departments at The Costumer and its three costume vaults. Afterward, Patton helped White get right to work on hats for a production of The Music Man at Park Playhouse in Albany, New York.
“That day, I hand-sewed so many little fake flowers on hats and did fabric bands to go around them,” recalls White. “That was the project they needed to get done pretty fast, so I was working on those for the rest of the day. I sat at this little corner downstairs, and I watched everyone bustle around on other projects. It was so cool just to see everyone working. Everything that they do there is amazing.”
White embraced her opportunity to learn the business, tackling any and all tasks assigned to her. She ironed, pinned costumes, and sewed covered buttons — which she dubbed “devil buttons” because the process of sewing them “totally eats your fingernails up.” White explained that while she did get many standard intern tasks, she appreciated being eased in a bit. “They were definitely doing things that were way beyond me.” Some days, she helped in the costume vault, pulling costumes for upcoming productions.
Up-close on the team
White felt like a member of the staff while interning, getting an up-close view of the costuming process while also meeting people who inspired her. “Grace was the ideal intern,” says Patton. “She was very engaged, thoughtful, and hardworking. She was so interested in learning and inquisitive.”
The experience opened White’s eyes to the complex work happening behind the scenes in professional theatre — worlds away from her high school theatre experience. “We had work parties,” White says of preparing for high school shows. “I’d sew a few things, iron a few things, and maybe pull things here and there. But it was mostly our costumer at our school. We were lucky enough to have one. I was really oblivious to most of the process.”
Now, White sees performances in a different light. She realizes that each step of the costuming process, from measuring to cutting to shipping, is essential. “I have a totally new appreciation for every single costume that I’ll ever see from this point on,” she says.
One highlight of her summer experience was seeing a production of Ragtime costumed by Patton. The work she had witnessed as an intern came to life for her in that moment. “I was just drooling all over the costuming,” White said. “It was so cool to see such a high-quality show, and be like, ‘Yeah, I know the costume designer of that.’”
For White, costume design is about creative expression, a perfect blend of her two main passions: fine art and drama. “Actors can use costumes to learn about their characters. The audience can use them to be transported to different worlds or times. And designers create them as a form of art,” explains White. “Costumes are the way I can use my love for visual arts, mixed with my love for theatre, and I am just amazed by them.”
The Costumer also equipped White with life skills relevant to any career path she might choose. “It definitely boosted my confidence,” she says. “Having this on my résumé I think will definitely look good, and I appreciate that a lot. Even if I don’t get to go into that profession too soon, along the way, I’m hoping that it can definitely open a few doors for me.”
Now pursuing a B.F.A. in studio arts at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, White is not sure exactly what shape her future will take, but she hopes it will include costume design. Regardless of her professional path, though, she says, “The experience was a dream. The people were so loving, and they hold a special place in my heart.”
* * *
Read more Dramatics.