by Mallory Moad
“So why do you want to do this?”
I’m standing in the middle of a storage unit in north Fresno, staring at endless racks crammed with a variety of costumes and for the life of me I can’t remember the answer to that question. The person who presented this query was Joel Abels, Artistic Director of Stageworks Fresno. “This” is designing costumes for an upcoming production of the musical Dogfight.
If you’re imagining me sitting at a drawing board, coming up with all kinds of fantastic wearable creations, let me burst your bubble. Dogfight is based on the 1991 film starring Lilli Taylor and the late River Phoenix. Because the story takes place in the 1960s the biggest part of my job was finding existing clothing that is either from that era or just looks like it. While that may sound like an easy assignment, it hasn’t been without its challenges. Time restraints, difficult-to-fit body types and late deliveries were just a few of the hurdles I jumped.
I had 28 days in which to appropriately dress 31 characters played by 14 actors. That’s a lot of clothes. As of July 15, I had visited 99% of the thrift stores in Fresno, some of them more than once, and I can tell you from first-hand experience they’re all stocked with an abundance of men’s pleated khaki pants in size 34/30. I shopped ’til I dropped but not just anything off the Goodwill rack would do. This was a matter of making creative decisions regarding each character’s appearance and personality. A classy drag queen would wear a suit in the style of Jackie O; a somewhat slovenly tattoo artist would have a scrawny pony tail peeking out from under his gray knitted cap; a slightly tacky lounge singer’s ensemble was inspired by many of the popular crooners of the 60s.
Sometimes in my second-hand searches, I would come across an item that would speak to a particular character. The jacket with the plaid trim was obviously part of the civilian wardrobe of the bespectacled marine; the shiny yellow stilettos were just made to be worn by the outspoken prostitute; the flowing skirt with handkerchief hem just screamed “hippie girlfriend.”
I borrowed, I asked for and received discounts, and I rented. Eight of those 31 characters are U.S. Marines. That’s eight identical dress uniforms and eight sets of battle fatigues (including boots). Because this is such a specific need, renting from a Southern California company was the only option. I was able to purchase eight pairs of knock-off jungle boots from a local source. The smell of their imported rubber soles still lingers in my car.
We open in five days and my job is far from finished (the show opened on July 24). There are pants that need to be shortened, a pair of white pumps needs to be found, hats that I’m hoping will magically materialize out of nowhere. But on Friday, all the pieces of the puzzle will come together come hell or high water. Maybe then I’ll remember the answer to that question!
Dogfight runs from July 24-August 9 at the Dan Pessano Theater, 2770 E. International Ave., Fresno. Tickets can be purchased by going to the StageWorks Fresno website. Watch for KRL’s review of the show on Wednesday.
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