At best, costume designers get a line or two in a typical game review. But in the world of live theater, their work is vital.
Without them, the actors would all be naked. Okay, even a lousy costume designer can fix that.
But a great designer helps actors transform into their characters.
That’s true for every game. But with “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” that transformation is central to the story.
Matthew Lopez’s comedy follows an Elvis impersonator who is dethroned as king and becomes a hit as a drag queen.
In the spring of 2020, FST was preparing to stage this show. The actors had completed their first week of rehearsals. Lea Umberger was fine-tuning her original costume designs. Showtime was just around the corner!
Until the pandemic crushes the party. And Elvis left the building.
It’s now a new year, a new spring, and “Georgia McBride” has been born again. Mari Taylor Floyd is FST’s new costume shop supervisor and the show’s associate costume designer.
What is the job description? Simple. From nightgowns to jumpsuits, if an actor wears it, it’s Floyd’s responsibility.
No pressure. Just the success or failure of this production.
When did you start as FST Costume Shop Manager?
In June 2021. When Lea had to move away, I also took on the “Georgia McBride” project. That’s when I became an associate production costumer.
And that’s when “Georgia McBride” became your baby. I guess it’s a big baby?
Definitively. If you do the math, there are a total of 50 costumes – 27 of which are in the drag look. We also have 24 wigs in production.
Did you start with a blank slate on costume designs?
No, I worked with Léa throughout the year, our collaboration was a great experience. She had already created the basic design concepts for this show. Before leaving, she said, “I don’t want you to be in the dark about this. Before leaving, let’s sit for two hours. We’ll go over each costume and the creative choices behind it. So that’s what we did. And then she gave me the project.
OKAY. You knew Lea’s opinion on costume design. I guess you still had some creative work to do on the costumes.
Well, we tried to stick to Lea’s original design intentions as much as possible.
In reality, this is not always possible. A design can look amazing on paper. But these things turn into live theater.
You meet the new cast and watch the show take shape in the rehearsal room — and that changes everything. You see what the director is really trying to design in the series. What works and what doesn’t.
How do you know what works? For example, what are the key factors?
Characterization, of course. And the time.
The clock is turning.
Yeah. From one scene to another, the costume change time is very limited. Sometimes we have to simplify designs to achieve this. And the designs are unique to each actor. This also applies to wigs. Put a towering wig on a tall actor and he’s suddenly eight feet tall. An inch or two more, and the wig is a fire hazard. So you have to do those calculations.
It actually happened on this show. And the lighting designer hates me for it. The actors all love me, so that’s fine.
Why do they like you?
Well, actors create and become their characters. It’s their job – and the right costume helps them do it. It is something specific that they can understand. A suit, a dress. … It helps them visualize what their characters look like. And who they are.
So who is the main character in this play?
Well, that’s Casey, the Elvis impersonator – who is hilariously played by Britt Michael Gordon. But Georgia McBride is also the main character. (Britt plays her too; she’s Casey’s drag character.) So Casey turns into Georgia and becomes her all the way.
A straight white boy embraces his femininity and learns to walk in heels?
You got it. That’s a big part of the story. In a greased up wig and gold lamé jumpsuit, Casey transforms into Elvis. In a pompadour wig, he turns into a beautiful woman. It’s all about transformation.
And your costumes make it possible. Wow! Your work sounds incredibly fun.
It’s a lot of fun, but there’s also a ton of painstaking math involved.
Costume design is like any other form of design. Specifications can be very tight.
Your first design doesn’t always work – or your second or third design – and it can get frustrating. Like Elvis’ wig in this show. How hard could that be? But Susan Haldeman, our wig designer, went through constant trial and error to perfect this design.
If the wig hangs flat, you have Moe from the Three Stooges. If the wig is too comical, you end up with Camp Elvis – and that’s not the vision of this play. So Susan kept going back to the drawing board until she finally got it right. It’s his process, and mine too.
If you’re a costume designer, you can’t just have fun, even if you want to.
I am constantly smothering my inner child. “No! You can’t do that!
Is your job still so difficult?
No. Creating Dolly Parton’s dodgeball-sized breasts was easy.
What did you use?
I really like my work as a costume designer. It’s a beautiful whirlwind of madness!
Who are the unsung heroes you work with?
The interns, absolutely. They are the backbone of Florida Studio Theater.
And the interns who work on “Georgia McBride” are rock stars. We call them “The Glam Squad” – and they are amazing.
This show has so many costumes, so many changes. We couldn’t do it without them!
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