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Shepherd Greys, or How I Became Seamstress for the Band (part 2)

Back on set with Firefly: The Musical.

While I was pondering the bonnet, I discovered that another other costume was incomplete.

Shepherd Book, the ship’s resident preacher-man, had a very distinctive grey shirt on the original show. It looked like a standard dress shirt, but with a plain strip of cloth where the buttons should be, and a flat collar that evokes the typical look of modern-day clergy, with a stiff white liner peeking out the top all the way around the neck, instead of showing an inch or two in the middle of the throat. (This may, in fact, be a style some real-world priests wear, but I haven’t seen it.)

Our Shepherd was wearing a lovely grey dress shirt backwards.

This worked for the photo shoot, but the moment the rehearsal started, I spotted a problem. He had more than one scene where he spent a majority of the time with his back at least partially to the audience – buttons, backward collar and all. He looked ridiculous.

I stole his shirt at the end of the rehearsal and promised to have something better by the final run-through on Sunday.

I miraculously found a cheap grey that was a perfect match for the Shepherd’s shirt. I cut two strips about 4 inches by 2 feet, folded them long-ways, and stitched together the edges and one end. I turned them inside-out, pressed both along the seams and fold, and then started pinning.

With the shirt’s original collar tucked safely inside-out (outside-in?), I stuffed the stitched end of one of the strips into the top of the shirt, then safety-pinned it down the side of the placket so that the button holes were still accessible. The second strip was pinned around the collar so that the stitched-up end could overlap about four inches on one side, and the unfinished end was again unceremoniously stuffed into the top of the shirt.

The final product looked a royal mess on the hanger, with loose ends hanging out and safety pins everywhere, but our Shepherd could get the shirt on and off with minimal fuss, and with the shirt tucked in and the collar fully pinned up, it looked remarkably like the original.

It wouldn’t have won any fashion awards, but it looked pretty great for a $5 thrift-store-and-scraps costume. And as an added bonus, the alterations could all be easily undone, leaving the actor with a nice, normal grey dress shirt.

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I Swear By My Pretty Floral Bonnet, or How I Became Seamstress for the Band (part 1)

When we last left off, I had just delivered a super-quick Jayne hat to the dress rehearsal and photo shoot for Firefly: The Musical.

It will surprise absolutely no one, but that was not the only costume piece I created for that show.

I made a pretty floral bonnet.

…and a shawl.

…and I retrofitted a shirt.

…and I made a starship console.

I’ll start with the bonnet.

While waiting for the Firefly: The Musical dress rehearsal to start that Friday, I learned that the cast was unable to procure a pretty floral bonnet, a critical prop for the opening scene of the show. (If you’ve seen the episode of Firefly, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the episode, you will have no clue what I’m referring to. Just know that a main character wears said bonnet to great comedic effect, then references it later for greater comedic effect. It is a seriously critical prop.)

Naturally, I hop on Twitter to ask my two best seamstress friends (Dear Roommie and her previous Dear Roommie) for help putting together something that could pass as a pretty floral bonnet.

Dear Roommie, naturally, had a bonnet and matching apron stashed away in her costume collection at home in San Antonio.

Dear Roommie’s Dear Roommie tweeted instructions for a possible bonnet design. Four tweets. Full instructions.

I love both of these women more than I can possibly say.

I ran home after the rehearsal and put together a bonnet mock-up from the muslin that I just happened to have on hand – because I am apparently getting serious enough about this sewing nonsense to have a muslin stash.

Even in its thin, floppy state, it looked like an actual bonnet.

I took it to the tech rehearsal Saturday morning, and the stage manager nearly kissed me.

After rehearsal, I ran out and purchased the gaudiest floral calico print I could find. I made a few adjustments to the design, including fusible interfacing in the brim (because I keep that on hand now, too – wow, I feel like a grown-up seamstress, almost), and about an hour later, I had something that actually looked like a pretty floral bonnet.

In case you want to make your own pretty floral bonnet, here’s a brief explanation of the construction:

I think my favorite part is how much more hilarious it is than the bonnet used in the original show. Brown frilly bonnet with dainty flowers? Pfah! I want to hear that bold, flowery print screaming from the back of the theater!

I hadn’t slept a whole lot in the last week, and had to get up pretty early for that Saturday rehearsal. Then I constructed a pretty floral bonnet during the time I’d initially intended to spend napping to make up for that lost sleep, so I was pretty loopy by the time I finished construction and headed out to watch a truly amazing musical improv extravaganza that evening. I think I showed that picture to everyone I saw Saturday night. (Sorry about that guys – it really was the sleep dep talking.)

Needless to say, the squeals and hugs from the cast and director when I showed up with the actual bonnet at Sunday’s rehearsal were well worth the lost nap time.

Aside from the ego stroking involved in having a dozen talented actors and crew ooh and ahh over my creations, this has actually turned out to be a good educational project.

I don’t think I’ve sewn anything completely without a pattern before, so mentally designing and then just making a frakking bonnet has been a good creative exercise. I feel a good bit more empowered to design future projects, rather than be completely dependent upon expensive and confusing patterns.

Putting together the bonnet has also just been good practice with the sewing machine. I’m still not as skilled at putting stitches right where I want them to be as I’d like. I have difficulty making straight lines, and I’m even worse at making curved lines that move the way I want them to. It basically comes down to a dexterity problem, and the best way to overcome coordination issues is to practice. But you can only practice so much when materials aren’t especially cheap and can’t be recycled as easily as, say, beads or yarn. I generally only pull everything out when I have an actual project, at which point I’d rather it look right when I’m done. While I was madly assembling the bonnet, it dawned on me that because stage costuming doesn’t have to look perfect up close, it actually makes for ideal sewing practice!

So, friends, if anyone needs something ridiculous sewed/crafted for a show, you know where to find me.

…and I have now said “bonnet” in person and text more times this week than possibly the rest of my life.

Bonnet.

Surprise! Jayne Hat

So remember when I said I was going to finish projects?  What I meant by that was finish projects before I start other projects.

I failed.  Like, the day after that post.

I spent the better part of two months engrossed in one massively involved sewing project that I should have been finishing that week, but a friend needed a Jayne hat.

For the uninitiated, Jayne Cobb is a big, tough-guy character on Joss Whedon‘s tragically short space western television series Firefly.  In one of the final episodes, he receives a comically uncharacteristic care package from home, complete with a hat hand-knit by his mother, which he obviously loves, because it’s from Ma Cobb.  It is the signature costume piece from the series.

So I woke up to the follow inquiry from an improviser friend of mine:

Now, we’re going to skip over the bit where I was the first person he asked and get right to the important bit.

I *have* a Jayne hat.  It’s a very nice Jayne hat, made with lots of love by a wonderful friend from college who was just learning to knit and happened to make two while she was learning the pattern.  She just up and handed over the spare when I said I loved it and would like to have one of my own one day.  (Clearly, this was from my pre-knitting days, as I didn’t just ask for the pattern and make one myself.)  I’ve worn it as my primary winter hat every year since.

But you see, the colors aren’t quite right.

And the friend who needs the hat is actually playing Jayne in a local production of Firefly: The Musical, and we already knew we’d have a lot of fans out to see it, so I just couldn’t bring myself to put him out on stage with an inaccurate hat.

So I made another one.

Seriously – he asked at 10:00am on Tuesday, and I was in the HobLob by noon, and knitting by 12:30.

Yes, it’s a sickness.

No, I’m not getting help.

I’m (more or less) using this pattern, because the girl who wrote it obviously obsessed over all the details the way I would have, if I had that sort of time.  Frankly, she deserves a medal for doing all this work and putting it online for free.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive Jayne hat pattern.

Actually, stop reading my post for a few minutes, and peruse that blog entry.  You need to see it.  I’ll wait.

Now back to my hat!

I used Vanna’s Choice yarn in Brick, Rust, and Mustard, on size 10 circular needles.

I started with 68 stitches, because my Jayne has a large-ish head.  As I finished the main portion of the cap, I discovered the best part of this pattern:

There is no decrease.

During her many pained hours carefully examining the original hat as seen on the show, she found that it bunched at the top, which means that the hat is made by forming one big tube, then just drawing up the top like a bag.

Fun fact: Making a giant tube and gathering the top drawstring-style makes for a really stinkin’ cute hat!

Final dress rehearsal and photo shoot was at 6:30 on Friday.  I finished sewing in the ends during lunch.

The hat was going to be a complete surprise, but I was working on it at a show on Thursday night, and took the opportunity to ambush my friend and check the size. The surprise turned out to be instead that the hat he saw half-finished at 11:30 on Thursday night was done the next afternoon.

Rather cunning, dontcha think?

What have we learned from this project?

I am:
a) not above buying the love of my friends with ridiculous hats
b) a hopeless geek
c) addicted to knitting (again)
d) really pleased to return to my old role as the go-to gal for crafty things.  Go on – ask me to make something.  No, don’t – I have other projects to finish!
e) All of the above

On Performance Anxiety, or Back In The Saddle Again

Well, look at that. I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet after all.

I haven’t posted anything in a while in part because I have been very busy with projects and improv, but also because I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence. While this has made wonderful fodder for a long string of comic scripts that may, one day, actually get drawn, it has done very little for my sanity.

In May, I will have been in Austin for one year. The past year has been overloaded with new experiences, new people, new places. I’ve been trying out new projects with varying levels of success. I’ve been auditioning for both improv and scripted shows to disastrous effect.

Long story short: I have been doing a lot of new things, and with a less than 50% success rate overall, I’m feeling a tad emotionally bruised.

Short story long:

Somewhere during college I was beset with a really awful case of performance anxiety. I’m talking sweaty-palms, dry-mouth, stomach-in-knots, every-muscle-goes-limp-and-my-brain-just-shuts-down stage fright. My voice goes all wibbly, my vision blurs, and I’m pretty sure I turn a bright shade of pink.

I know I haven’t always been this way, because I have distinct memories of getting really amped up and blowing performances out of the water in middle school. In eighth grade, I walked into a region band audition with so much confidence I made other people in the room nervous, and I took first chair without breaking a sweat.

Frankly, I think I was just young and dumb enough to not recognize how freaked out I was, so I could fake my way past it.

In the latter half of high school and into college I gradually lost that confidence, and became practiced at being anxious in front of an audience. Now anything that even remotely looks like a performance – improv shows, auditions, work presentations, conversations with more than two people – triggers an automatic nervous response.

(Seriously, folks. I’m getting Pavlovian jitters just visualizing a stage as I write this.)

This isn’t just a fear-of-strangers thing. A few weeks ago I was told by a very nice doctor who I’d only met minutes before that the weird spot on my nose that I’d been ignoring for two years was actually a mild form of skin cancer.

I faced that conversation with infinitely more grace and dignity than a musical audition the same week.

It should have been a slam dunk. I walk into a room with four people I already know, read some scenes from a show I love so much I’ve effectively memorized it, and sing a song I’ve known since I was ten.

I can say with some confidence that that was the single most embarrassing thing I’ve done in the last year.

A couple of weeks later, I thought I had a chance to redeem myself. One of my favorite improv friends invited me to perform a very silly set with him, three people I’ve been dying to play with, and a former classmate that I terribly missed playing with. I spent the vast majority of our 25 minutes becoming intimately acquainted with a corner in the wings where I could completely hide from the audience and most of the stage.

I even jumped back into a couple of short improv classes that, if anything, have left me feeling even more inadequate as a performer. This is not by any fault of the teachers, of course (though taking the elective where the teacher is intentionally mean to the students was probably not my best idea ever) – this is just me at my most paranoid and self-conscious.

This crisis of confidence is even bleeding over into my crafting. I haven’t been posting lately because the new things I’ve tried have not all come out perfectly on the first try, and I’m feeling that performance pressure as I write up the posts.

Which is ridiculous, I know.

So for my own sanity, I’m trying a different approach to my creative efforts for the near future:

I’m only doing things that I’m good at.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, because one thing I am exceptionally bad at is sticking to plans once I’ve shared them with others. I’ve already tried a few new things since I first decided I wouldn’t be doing new things (yes, I’ll be posting about them – promise!), so clearly I’m full of crap. But my ego needs some TLC, and my craft cabinet is taking over my home, so for the near future, my goals are very simple:

I’m only doing things I’m good at, and I’m finishing projects.

Sometime later, when I’m feeling cocky again, I will charge back into the unknown. But right now, I have loads of things I want to get done that I know I can do.

In Protest of Internet Censorship

Obviously, I’m not turning out the lights today, but it goes without saying that SOPA and PIPA still need to be addressed.

I’ll keep this very simple.  This is where I stand on these two awful bills.

This is an extraordinarily detailed examination of the bills, written by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, instead of the “I’m no expert” industry representatives that have been brought in to testify in congressional hearings.

If you want more information, you cannot throw a virtual stone on the internet today without hitting a dozen antiSOPA/PIPA articles or dedicated websites.

Go ahead.  Google SOPA.  Google Protect IP Act.

Then please, please contact your representatives and tell them to stop these bills.

Reliving Past Glories, or The Joys of High School Theater Club

I spent a good deal of the last three days sweating over the latest improv audition.  It’s one of the few Hideout main stage shows that I actually felt strongly enough about to bother to try out for, since the competition for these shows is getting ridiculous.

The audition required a resume, so I’ve been reminiscing about my colorful (if rather rough-and-tumble) days in student theater groups, re-reading old scripts, and boring The Boy to tears with tales of creative casting and production disasters.

I walked into my junior year of high school at a new school with no theater experience more sophisticated than embarrassing elementary school choir musicals.  Granted, I played the starring role in the fifth grade production of “Holly and the Ivy League” (don’t ask – you’ll be glad you didn’t), but that wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to bring up as I walked into my first audition for our student-run drama club, in front of the wildly intimidating group of seniors running the show.

I was quite sure what, if anything, they saw in my audition (I’m pretty sure I was the only girl who attempted the accent called for), but they gave me a bit part – two, actually – in the big play that was staged on parents weekend.  There I was, wobbling around the stage, playing a drunk actress and a Russian duchess in ridiculous costumes and sporting an accent that went from barely passable to just plain awful as rehearsals progressed.  On opening night, my parents managed to score seats in the front row – only a few feet away from the spot where I stumbled out onto the stage in glorified lingerie and did a little drunken song and dance thing at the end of the first act.

That show was a smashing success, as was the next semester’s play.  I got to play three bit parts in that one.  Then I was selected to be one of the club officers my senior year, which meant I’d have the opportunity to direct.  Bit-parter to director in less than a year.  Hooray for tiny amateur theater.

I took the job very seriously.  Really, too seriously at first.  One of my best friends and I decided we wanted to do a musical, but couldn’t make that happen in the first semester, so we grabbed a random script from our library and did a nice, simple play as a sort of directorial dry-run.

It was, to put it mildly, a learning experience.

Continue reading “Reliving Past Glories, or The Joys of High School Theater Club”