Costume Creation at Whitefish Theatre Company

By Beacon Staff

Lonnie Porro spins from fluffing a puffy silk sleeve to marking a blue tunic for hemming. After scribbling a few words on note cards hung around her neck, she straightens a 15-inch tall chef hat, securing it as the actor bobs his head. Behind her trails a color riot – pinks, purples, greens, flashing baubles, gilded brocades – actors bedecked in Medieval costumes waiting to be checked.

Before opening night for Whitefish Theatre Company’s Cinderella, the stage resembles a chaotic soiree. It rustles with taffeta and flounces with tulle. As the parade swirls around Porro, she assesses how the actors dance or walk in their costumes. Contrary to renting costumes as usual for their December musical, the company opted to do their own with a financial grant from Doris Schumm. Porro took on the design and production of the fairy tale’s 75 costumes. “And they all have hats,” she adds.

“I like doing period things. They’re more fun than contemporary,” says Porro, WTC’s production manager for the past five years. During the summer, she scavenged materials at fabric shops and garage sales, buying up colorful remnants, old sheets for costume linings and draperies. “The heavier fabrics look good on stage,” she says. “Lots of people bring me things, too. Often, the buttons may be worth more than the dress.”

By September, Porro enlisted volunteer Sherron Donovan for costume design. The pair poured through catalogs, Oprah magazines, movies, paper doll books, the Internet, and even Barbie doll collectable pictures to lasso inspiration. “We got our ideas from everywhere!” says Donovan, who then sketched costume plans.

Nothing is more inspired than the three uglies. “We wanted them over the top,” says Porro. “Everyone else is classic Medieval. However, these three think they’re grand and lovely, but they’re just a little off kilter.” The sinister stepmother dresses in darker colors. Despite her sumptuous black and gold ball dress, her wide-piled rolled coif topped with a tiny hat expose her absurdity. The stepsisters sport fashion faux pas – gaudy lime stripes and a flowerpot hat. One trots about in flaming red boots stacked on six-inch high heels. Inspired by Houston Grand Opera’s La Cenerentola where Porro served on production crew, the other bulges with a huge bust and a monstrous kaboom-kaboom behind.

Fitting 75 costumes to 28 cast members is no short order. With a volunteer bevy, the work launched in Porro’s office, where plastic bins spew with fringes, ruffles, boas, ribbons, feathers, buttons, and necklaces. More fabric rolls grouped by stripes, dots, plaids, and solid colors line a wall surrounding the worktable.

Mixing and matching patterns, Porro and Donovan invented costumes. “It’s a slow process,” says Porro, explaining that the first three dresses took two of them five hours to cut out. “We’d take the sleeves off one thing and the dress body from something else. Every step has decisions, like laying out the sleeves with a diagonal or vertical stripe.”

Then, 16 volunteer seamstresses and hand stitchers built costumes. “There is absolutely no way we could do a show this big without all the volunteers,” says Porro. “The hours in these dresses are astronomical.” Many are pure confection – the roller-skating Fairy Godmother sprinkled in cotton candy pink tulle, Cinderella in a rich blue sequin-hooded ball cloak, and the Queen bronzed in gold satin and chiffon. Even lesser lords and guards festoon lavish splendor.

Each opulent wonder tops with an extravagant hat. Five hot glue-gun wielding volunteers dabbed on pearl and diamond jewels to create distinct fantasies. The Captain of the Guard dazzles with a black-feathered, silver-tinseled helmet and the Queen with a whimsical gilded cage topped with a nesting bird.

In the final stitching weeks, Porro and Donovan labored on costumes, often until two a.m. “It’s kind of like painting,” says Porro, who wears safety pins and a threaded needle for instant repairs during performances. “It takes longer to prepare for the performance than actually to do it.” While the familiar Rogers and Hammerstein Cinderella musical holds no storyline surprises, the costumes are absolute enchantment.

Call the O’Shaughnessey Center (862-5371) for tickets:
Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Adults $18, seniors and students $14

Dec. 8, 15, 22 at 2 p.m.
Dec. 9, 16 at 4 p.m.
Adults $16, seniors $12, students $8