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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 29th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 34 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 34

PCPA's costume shop brings 'Mary Poppins' to 3D


Mary Poppins costume designer Judy Ryerson put different trim colors against a marionette costume and discussed which one works best with Jane Pivovarnik (left), who makes patterns for costumes, and PCPA Costume Shop Manager Robin Newall (middle).

With a paintbrush, PCPA Theaterfest intern Jun Han blotches different shades of green on fabric to make it look like a tree that’s come to life. Just across from her, PCPA Crafts Supervisor Fred Deeben is attaching a green felt top hat to the face of a frog.

Both the frog and the bush are part of a cast of about 60 characters that need costumes for the upcoming PCPA production of Mary Poppins. The musical hits the stage on Nov. 7 and runs through Dec. 22. Check out for show times.

While for most people making costumes is something that happens only once a year—say, around Halloween—it’s a process that happens year-round for PCPA, and it hasn’t stopped for 50 years.

Han and Deeben were working in the back room of the PCPA costume shop at Allan Hancock College on Oct. 25. In the main room, five other costume makers were in different stages of completion on other costumes for the production.

High above the crowd of sewing machines and fabric on the shop floor, design renderings for each character were tacked on the wall directly over the entrance to one of two fitting rooms. Costumes hung along the entire length of an adjacent wall. They were shoved together like clothing in a too-full closet; each article had already been fitted to its assigned cast member and was ready for dry cleaning.

Only a partial vision of visiting costume designer Judy Ryerson hung, finished, on the rack, while the rest of the Mary Poppins character-line is still in process.

The costumes for the 60 or so characters that make up the musical are not Ryerson’s first run at costume design: She’s been in the business for nearly 30 years and spent about half of those years, 1989 to 2005, at PCPA. She now runs the graduate program in costume design at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Mary Poppins is a big production to put together. Ryerson said had she not had experience working for PCPA in the past, it would have been tough.

Theaterfest doesn’t piece together every costume by hand for a specific production. Only about a third of the costumes are made in the costume shop. Some are picked out of a gigantic warehouse full of stock costumes, which is essentially a PCPA collection of the last 50 years worth of putting on shows. Some costumes are purchased outright from other stores, just because it’s cheaper.

Ryerson said that last part is way easier now that the Internet is around. The first show she designed for PCPA was Peter Pan.

“We had to drive all the way down to L.A. to get what we needed,” Ryerson said. “[Now] I’ve found almost everything I need online.”

She said she purchased all the fabric online, as well as things like a skirt from Bangladesh and an umbrella from India. Ryerson added that with the big push for ready-made Halloween costumes that’s happened over the last decade, her job of finding items to put on the stage has become easier.

But store-bought costumes don’t necessarily have the staying power that’s needed for a play.

“I wish I had a nickel for every person that has asked me, ‘Where did you buy that costume?’” Ryerson said. “Because now, for Halloween, you can go down to the store and buy a costume. … For theater, it’s very different. These things have to be worn 48 times.”

Figuring out what gets purchased, made, or pulled from stock is something that is hammered out between the play’s costume director, which for Mary Poppins is Ryerson, and the costume shop manager, Robin Newall.

Ryerson uses the dancing trees that come to life in one of the play’s scenes as a good example of what that process is like.

“I say, ‘Robin I want this tree costume,’ and we’ll collaborate over the best way of achieving it,” Ryerson said.

In the tree’s case, PCPA intern Han is painting the fabric to give it the fantasy-look of both human and tree. It’s not the only costume that will be painted, either. Newall said a number of the costumes will be painted to look like they came right out of a sidewalk chalk drawing.

“My job is to make sure everybody has what they need to get the job done,” Newall said. “And balancing artists’ dreams with resource realities.”

Dreams come from the play’s director and the costume designer. They are sparked in equal parts by the characters of a play, the time period of the script, and where a play is set. Each play has a budget, which is translated from the size of the production. For Mary Poppins the budget is larger than, say, PCPA’s recent production of Clybourne Park, which is a much smaller production in terms of number of characters and actors.

On those smaller productions, Newall sometimes gets the chance to design costumes herself. She did so for Clybourne Park and is currently in the process of designing the costumes for PCPA’s production of Spring Awakening.

Newall has about 25 years under her sewing cushion in terms of costume design. She said she got into it for the sewing, which she loves, but she’s able to stay as interested as she does because she doesn’t have to design all the time. As costume shop manager, she can do both the artsy stuff as well as get the structure she needs to stay sane.

“It is a lot of work, but it’s fun work. It’s a dream to be able to work in this industry,” Newall said. “It may not be a good living, but it’s a fun living, and it’s a good living when you love your job.”

Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at

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