Hampton's behind-the-scenes crew adds fashion to musical
Maria Longo watched Hampton High School's musical from the audience last year, but this year, she is working behind the scenes with a team of volunteers who are charged with creating all of the costumes seen on stage.
Students and parent volunteers in Hampton High School's musical costume department spend months working with the directorial staff to create the vision for how the actors will look as they perform on stage and then sew and create the costumes in time for opening night.
“I think when you go to see a musical, you don't think about anything other than the people singing and dancing,” said Longo, a Hampton High School sophomore. “I've gained a lot of knowledge about everything that goes into … putting the musical together.”
This year, Lesa Demharter, costume director, and Emma Colbaugh, lead student costumer, are working with four students and several parents to sew close to 130 costumes for the cast of “The New Mel Brooks Musical — Young Frankenstein” that include aprons, vests and hats.
Volunteer Su Brannigan even created a fox stole with a removable head for a scene in which Igor bites the head off of the stole.
“I think it makes our shows look better,” said Colbaugh, a junior who has aspirations of being a professional costumer. “The amount of detail on these is very high.”
The school's attention to detail also has been recognized regionally. Hampton High School received nominations for best costume design in 2012 for “Damn Yankees” and 2013 for “Legally Blonde: The Musical” in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's annual Gene Kelly Awards program, which recognizes local school districts' excellence in high school musical theater.
This year, the costumers have been working harder than in recent years because this is the first time the high school has produced a show that requires costumes from the 1930s or Transylvania.
“Everything had to be made from scratch,” Colbaugh said. “I've been sewing a lot more because we need so much.”
Demharter travels all over the Pittsburgh area looking for fabrics to match the vision of the costumers and directorial staff. The costumers then spend hours in the school's family and consumer science room during rehearsals and log an equal amount at their homes sewing costumes — sometimes up until the week of the show.
“I've never let anyone go on stage naked,” Demharter said with a laugh, adding that the end product is worth the time and effort to create. “It never hinders the show, it always makes it better.”
Colbaugh said many people outside of musical theater do not understand the amount of work the costume department puts into each show.
“It's definitely hard to explain to people how much time we put into this,” Colbaugh said. “It's hard, but it's part of the job, and I love being here and doing this. I'm very fortunate to have been placed in a school where I get this opportunity.”
Last week, actresses twirled in their skirts while being fitted with costumes, and actors admired their characters' outfits during the “costume parade,” when many actors see their costumes for the first time.
“I have never had a dress fit me so well,” Gina Alm said while walking down the hall in a red gown her character, Frankenstein's fiancée, Elizabeth, will wear in the show.
Jennifer Lavella, choreographer, said the quality and look of the costumes could not be achieved by renting costumes.
“I feel we can really add our major wants and needs of the show,” Lavella said. “All around, I think the bar has been raised on us and the kids. We want to keep pushing it, and costumes are a big part of that.”
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.