Costuming Musings: Honk

Last spring I was asked by my good friend to help her costume the play Honk. This was officially my first foray into being part of a costume team. Of course there have been many times over the years where I have been assigned a task such as sewing “cookie heads” for Nutcracker, or making a dress for “Camelot.” (VERY hard- I learned what “boning” was… and no you naughty, it means something totally different) Helping a friend execute her vision for a ballet piece, adding fur to the Cowardly Lion’s paws. So the idea of being on a costume team was not a long reach, but to be an official, it-depends-on-you, part of the crew was new. To top it off, the official “Lead Duck” was in a different state so I was feet-on-the-ground here in Ketchikan, in The First City Players Costume shop.

Sherry, official “Lead Duck” was in Oregon, and not due back until a month before the show. I know that seems like plenty of time, but when you live in an isolated place like Ketchikan, you need lots of lead time to get items purchased, ordered, sent and possibly returned. So four weeks was frighteningly short. We had to do it all via telephone. Zoom. LOTS of FaceTime.

My first job was to go into the costume shop and pull 1950’s looking items for inspiration. We had not cast the play yet, so no idea about sizes, this was just a first dive in. The costume shop. Oh my gosh you guys! I need to give a little background about the building that houses FCP. It was an old… an old…. well, I am not a long-timer, so I have no idea what it used to be. But the offices and costume shops are located downstairs and only partially heated. The office is dark and cozy, warm and inviting. Even so, there has always been this strange sensation I get when I enter the building. Like… I can feel the weight – the entire weight of the space above, all three floors, concrete, glass, wood, all that weight on me when I walk in. It is weird, I know. I don’t know if anyone else ever experiences that, or if it is my own weird thing, but there you have it. Claustrophobia I guess.

This sensation, this weight, this claustrophobic feeling is magnified when you enter the costume area through a door off of the office. The door takes you to a dark, windowless unheated space with exposed pipes and concrete walls, PACKED with rolling racks of costumes. I guess this is where I mention that there is also a smell. For the record, not everyone notices, but along with that feeling of weight, there is a smell that perhaps only I smell… a smell of dampness, maybe shoes, and something I cannot identify.

Elizabeth, the FCP director gave me the tour of the neatly organized space: Wedding gowns, long gowns (mostly old prom dresses), historical, period, Fish Pirate’s Daughter (don’t touch – ever!) cocktail dresses, mens suits, mens jackets, uniforms…. and so on. I should mention that it took me over a year to successfully navigate that room! I STILL find little hidden treasures.

Fast forward. I don’t know, six weeks and hundreds of phone calls later, the play is cast, Sherry is back (yahoo), she has her vision and we take a look at what I pulled. I don’t think one thing fit properly. Dresses too tight, pants too baggy, sleeves too long. Sherry worked meticulously in an artistic notebook and started the “to do” list for each and every character. Slowly we tackled that list…

Farmers. Ducklings. Froglets. “Ugly.” Goose Squadron. Turkeys. Lily pads. Fish. Two Cats, a hen, a “Most Distinguished Duck,” and swans. I had NO idea how many details had to be considered: Goggles. Scarves. Aprons. Headpieces. Shoes, squadron boots. Chuck Taylor tennis shoes for all ducklings…orange of course, and oh-yeah, they also need snorkel flippers. From top to bottom every detail needed to be decided. Hat or no hat. Squadron hats sewn – flaps open or flaps closed? Tights. Colored or nude? And if colored? Yellow or orange? Does the duck gets the yellow crinoline or does the hen? And hurry! Hurry! that dress we ordered is too long, needs to be hemmed and it is some sort of elliptical hem that is weird and requires special pinning and two hours toiling away at Jackie’s time.

Once a decision was made a plan for execution took place. I holed up in my sewing room and produced aprons and headpieces. I raided my husband’s closet for farmer’s shirts and soccer socks and my own for scarves. Barbara took on helmets. Pam. Oh sweet pam. She converted Old Navy summer rompers into “old-timey” swimsuits. Sherry sewed swimming goggles onto “swimming caps” (aka green wool hats found in a bottomless tub of hat at FCP). She took a jacket and turned it into a turkey, complete with saggy red scarf and slouchy hat as waddle. We good naturedly haggled over whether his cap was called a beanie or a sailors cap. We agreed to disagree. (come on… a slouchy beanie is a slouchy beanie!!). We worked and beamed each other photos of our progress occasionally getting folks to try this or that on. Finally, most pieces ready, we had a special meeting with the cast and had a fitting session.

It was pure joy to watch folks try on the costumes. They were having so much fun, ohhhing and ahhhing over each other. Laughing at the froggys. I watched them give their costumes personality. One duckling turned his cap sideways, the farmer rolled up his sleeves, the Most Distinguished Duck adjusted her crown. The cat tilted his hat rakishly forward. It was fun to watch them “own” their costume. From this party session we generated a list of tweaks, but basically. We were done. Costumes turned over to the cast, we got to enjoy this show. Honk. A lovely retelling of the H. C. Anderson fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling.” A funny and rich story that celebrates diversity and learning to love yourself.

Pictures below include: Hats and Aprons I made, note the subtle “nod” to the beak shape – we did NOT want any literal animals on stage. Other pictures include the adorable kids as froggys and as duckys, the goose squadron and finally, the Swans.

This is the link to First City Players in Ketchikan, Alaska: FCP

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