Michelle Gore ’95 helps grown men transform into rhinoceroses eight times a week.
“Actors can pretend to be a rhino or a hyena, but the complete change into character comes when they put their costume on,” Gore says.
As a dresser for the Broadway musical Lion King, she is responsible for pre-setting the costumes, including the 100+-pound rhino; ensuring that they are sanitary for actors, maintaining the integrity of their appearance and helping the actors into and out of the costumes.
Gore is one of many Oswego alumni who have found steady, well-paying careers in costuming in New York City. These individuals help bring to life characters not only for audience members, but also for the actors.
Julia Kulaya ’13 had no problem landing her first job immediately after graduation as a costume and wardrobe assistant at the Two River Theater in New Jersey. She discovered the diversity of roles in costume work, which includes not only designers, but also buyers, builders, stitchers, fitters, dressers and shop managers.
Equally enjoyable are the range of characters that costumers fit. Fashion designer Elias Gutierrez ’09 remembers making frantic phone calls to Costume Professor Kitty Macey as he searched for swatches of fabric that he didn’t recognize during his first job in a costume shop. She talked Gutierrez through the crisis, and he eventually found success making giant cupcake costumes with pool-noodle sprinkles and gumdrop hats for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Today, in addition to working at a high-end fashion design company, Gutierrez makes time to design costumes and gowns for drag queens.
“When people put on a costume, their whole personality and mannerisms change,” Gutierrez says. “People will act differently as a cupcake than they will in a sultry evening gown. That’s what I love about it.”
And like many professions, it’s constantly evolving—from new fiber-optic fabrics to visible quick changes in full light, as seen in Cinderella’s on-stage transformation.
“It’s amazing what you can do with strings and magnets,” Gutierrez says.
Macey says she wants her students to understand how costumes support the vision of the director as well, and how details matter—the symbolism carried by adding a white headband to Jesus in a modern telling of Godspell, for example.
“It’s amazing the level and depth that goes into costume design,” Macey says. “Costume designs have to complement the set design and not interfere with body mics, so it’s a very collaborative process. And it’s one of the final things that an actor gets to add to the character. The costume is the final piece that pulls it all together.”