The Wardrobe


Birmingham Childrens Theatre costume shop makes magic happen.

Article by Chuck St John and Megan LaRussa for Southern Femme, Photography by Chuck St. John

Multi-strand Goddess chain Headpiece, $19, Urban Outfitters, The Summit. Moroccan Coin Ear-to-nose ring, $20, Urban Outfitters. Gold bangles, $6.99, Tribal Stretch Bracelet, $12.99, both from World Market. Brown Cocktail ring & Red Cocktail ring, Stylist’s own.

“I am not an actor! I’m a movie star!”

With that perfectly placed shout by Peter O’Toole in the film My Favorite Year, we see how the actor can place himself above it all in a self-delusional fit. That is definitely not how it is at the Birmingham Children’s Theater.

Teamwork and the wearing of multiple hats is de rigueur  at BCT. From the costume shop to administration, having multiple talents is what keeps this place humming in spite of small budgets and the necessity for having the skills of TV’s MacGyver. For over 65 years, the BCT has been educating, entertaining and enriching the lives of children…some of us, not so young anymore.

Kids are  given opportunities beyond seeing plays such as The Frog Prince, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty and Charlotte’s Web. Parents and teachers can be armed with customized learning plans, examples of cross-curriculum learning and the integration of the arts.  In addition, there are programs such as the BCT Academy of Performing Arts. Professional artists lead students through interactive sessions in rehearsal and performance places in the theater headquartered at the BJCC in downtown Birmingham. Participation in the performing arts gives kids an advantage in teamwork skills, self-confidence, pubic speaking and presentations.

Another important program the BCT involves itself in is vision screening. Since poor vision effects tens of thousand of kids in Alabama, the program seeks  intervention to head off poor educational performance, behavioral problems and issues of low self-esteem. Many vision problems and their related behavioral issues can be found and corrected early through this program.

On the business end, Stacey Turner and her staff of seven handle administrative duties, including social media, working with school groups to coordinate the four performances per day the BCT does,

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as well as helping to secure sponsors and working on the next years’ shows.

Perhaps the most magical of all places in the theater is the costume shop. Chris Mueller  heads the department that brings to life all the costumes that the characters in each play wear. Chris’ background is in theater and costume design. He holds a BA in theater with a concentration in costume design from Jacksonville State and an  MFA in costume design from Virginia Commonwealth. However, when pressed to name his favorite place for getting things for his costumes, he said Home Depot. Talk about MacGyver!

From Belle in Beauty and the Beast, to a Medieval lady, to the heroine in Zorro, Mueller is able to transport the BCT audience to another world through his elaborate costumes.  “You start with several meetings with the director, who will decide on what direction he or she wants to go in, and as the costume designer I will go from there,” Mueller says.  Once the costumes have been dreamed up, it “generally takes anywhere from two days to a couple of weeks [to create them], depending on how complicated the garment is,” he says.

The costume shop isn’t just about the costumes that one sees on the stage, although that is what we are showing here. Watching Mueller start on a Batman costume as well as planning one for Captain America is an interesting study in how things get done. To see him marking, cutting, pinning and sewing in a flurry of motion is to see the love and attention to detail fly from fingertips that fear neither thread nor needle.

Each masterfully made garment can then be accessorized according to the character being played.  And this fall we have taken Mueller’s costumes into 2012 to showcase the latest trends in accessories.

Channel the pre-fall Chanel collection and take a trip to India.  With gilded headpieces, decadent hand pieces and jeweled bangles, this fall is a time for a new luxury.

This season is not a time to be sartorially shy.  Statement necklaces, collar-style chokers and cocktail rings galore will make you stand out from the crowd, just as these costumes shine on stage.

To coordinate all the activity in the shop is Nikki Wahl. She is assistant production manager, prop master and rental manager.  Her assigned duties include getting costumes to where they’re supposed to be, knowing where each and every prop is, and helping other theaters in the area with costumes that they want to borrow for their own productions. When pressed for a couple of odd requests, she recalled a Santa in Space for an alien costume event and one person that asked about “fake” explosions. Seriously.

All the costumes in this article were constructed in this amazing place. From fantasy to whimsy. the transportation to a time removed or to a time that never was  is complete. The wondrous talents of these costumers and bringers of fantasy, makers of make believe and teachers of lessons learned, help all kids see that which really isn’t there. Except in the mind.

Make up by Jennifer Spanick

Hair by Kiffany Ray

Assistant:  Erin London

Model: Erin Jackson

Video:  Hunter Cressal

Stylist:  Megan LaRussa for Southern Femme

Stylist Assistant: Matthew Yarborough

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