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27th Jun, 2022

RSC looking to give costume department multi-million dressing-up

Catherine Thompson 19th Jul, 2017 Updated: 19th Jul, 2017

THE ROYAL Shakespeare Company is looking to give its costume department in Stratford a multi-million dressing-up.

The company has revealed plans for an £8.7million revamp of its current cramped workrooms located on Waterside facing the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

The buildings, some dating back to the mid-18th century, have been home to the costume department since the 1950s but the department has now outgrown them.

The plans involve connecting the current workshops with the RSC offices behind on Chapel Street, to allow the team more space to create the costumes, and provide more training opportunities for students.

There will also be a lift to allow the easier transfer of heavy costumes to different rooms, and outside areas to provide actors and staff much needed breathing space.

A new main entrance on Waterside – originally leading to an 1887 scenery store for the former Shakespeare Memorial Theatre – will welcome both staff and visitors.

Tours are also planned to give people an insight into the work of the department.

Head of the costume department Alistair McArthur told The Observer: “The works are very necessary, we’re bursting at the seams in here.

“Staff can barely move, the heat is unbearable and using fans just blows everything about.

“We’d still like to retain the building’s character and the artistic feel of the department, but we hope it will feel a bit less industrial.”

Unlike most major theatres, the RSC costumes are made in-house – from masks and armour to jewellery and gowns – with a minimum of around 60 costumes per production.

A team of around 30 people make up the department which create costumes for every new production. The department includes dyeing and distressing rooms, wigs and make-up, a men’s and ladies workshop, and even an armoury.

And with around 15 productions a year, and only five weeks to complete costumes, before the actors take centre stage – it’s a big job.

Sometimes costumes need to be duplicated more than once for different stages in the play, including bloody action sequences or using ageing techniques to indicate the passing of time.

Each costume is made to measure and takes around four days to complete – with actresses needing 35 measurements in total.

If the plans are given the green-light by Stratford District Council, works are expected to begin next summer, with the aim of being completed by early 2020.

The department will move to a temporary home at the company’s old rehearsal rooms in Arden Street while the work is carried out.

Just over £2million of the cost will be covered by The Arts Council, and a fundraising campaign is also set to be launched in September.

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