Tucked away in the quiet wilds of Broadmead sits a family home with hidden secret.
A basement headquarters where one woman designs, cuts, sews, dyes and beads her way, night and day, to outfitting an entire 75-costume musical production, on a $2,000 budget – in less than four months.
The sewing room teems with hints at her work: a length of gold chiffon, a plume and sparkling bits of costume jewelry lie daintily next to the cold, industrial presence of a mid-century hat-shaper. A sewing machine and a serger face off while a hot glue gun radiates heat and possibilities. Fragrant frilly onesie pyjamas can’t quite tell the story of how they’ve been tinted with vanilla and instant coffee to achieve a vintage hue on a budget. A beaded vest adorns a form alongside an embellished bowler hat and will never return to its previous vocation as a full suit jacket, straight from the ‘80s.
When the actors of Cabaret embody the spirit of 1931 Berlin on the Langham Court Theatre stage this month, only costume designer Diane Madill will know the full story of how they arrived.
“It’s a process,” Madill says. “It’s the first play I’ve ever done alone and it’s baptism by fire. … You just have to use your imagination and sew all night and day.”
Madill – who immediately gives kudos to the help of sewers Trish MacDonald, Erica Sweitzer and her sister, Sharon Madill – has been maintaining a schedule of waking at 3am and sewing at least 12 hours daily since the play was cast in September. Some days, it’s more like 24 hours at the sewing machine, never stopping to sleep.
“I don’t have much of a personal life,” she says with a little laugh. “I’m crazy about theatre and I’m crazy about design.”
Madill begins the process by creating a spreadsheet of all the characters and costumes in the script, making note of each quick change – some in as little as 30 seconds. In the summer, Madill sat down with director Roger Carr, who she worked with on the Drowsy Chaperone, to create a look, which she describes as a classic take on the Jon Van Druten play. Madill, who studied fashion at the University of Alberta and spent a portion of her professional life teaching design, then begins to pour countless hours of research into the entirely volunteer task. Each costume signifies a blend of historical accuracy and creative expression: from the cloche hats adorned with flowers, that double as swastika-embellished helmets when reversed and the ornaments are removed, to the beaded flapper dress she re-designed twice over about 100 hours of labour.
“I ponder things,” Madill says. “You start with an idea and sometimes it works the first time. Sometimes you re-work it. I really love the design part. It really feeds me creatively.”
Cabaret runs Jan. 16 to Feb. 1 at 805 Langham. Tickets, from $21. langhamtheatre.ca.