Geetha Naidu has been working with TLFCB since 2000. She has helped produce thousands of costumes in numerous shows since then, including Belle and The Beast and The Nutcracker. After 19 years of experience with TLFCB, here’s what Geetha has to share on this lengthy and laborious process!
Walk me through the process of designing and producing a costume.
It begins when the teachers explain the theme of the show to me. Through research and discussion, we come up with the drawings of the costumes. Then comes the task of sourcing the fabrics – thinking about the material, choosing colour combinations. Based on the availability of fabrics, there’s more discussion on what will work and what won’t. According to this, we pick the fabrics – based on how it’ll look and how easily available it is, but more importantly whether it’ll work on stage with the students.
The second stage is the sampling stage. We take the measurements of a few students so we can start the process of making samples. We sample the costumes first, not only so we can see what problems there might be with the translation from paper design to physical product, but also so we can try out different variations – do we need to have a zip or hooks; should we have lace; how many layers should the tutu be? I repeat the sample about three times to make sure I’m happy with it, before carrying on to production.
We then take the measurements of all the students to get ready for production. I make a list of all the fabric and other material we’ll need and make an order. I then bring the fabric order to the production unit when it arrives. On the first day of production, I’m there to make sure every cut and every stitch is correct.
We begin the fitting sessions when the costumes have been made. We have all the students try on their costumes so we can take measurements again if the costumes need to be altered. After all the alterations are finished, I hand the costumes over to the admins along with any accessories they might have. Through this whole process, I sit with the teachers through every stage to discuss and fix any issues.
What’s a typical day like during the design and production stage?
It depends on the stage in production and it always varies. On one day I might use the first half of that day to source the material, and the second half to take measurements. Or I might use the first half to do sample production and then take measurements in the second half. I also spend my time doing the detailing and trialling that has to be done at every stage of production.
What’s the most challenging part of executing the costumes?
Probably the trialling stage because the costume will fit differently on every child and we often have to do alterations individually for every costume.
Do you think a successful costume is more parts creativity or more parts technique?
I think it’s equal parts both. With creativity, I feel like I have to top the costumes every year and we have to think about not only the theme and how cohesive it is, but also how can we make it even better than the last show. As for technique, the costume is definitely not ready for the stage until every stitch and every zip is perfect.
Actually, my uncle is a designer. I got inspired through him to take up work like this, but I also didn’t have an idea about the kind of work it was. My assumption was that it was “just stitching” but it’s actually so much more complex than that. I also love working with kids, and I love the creative side of designing every costume. It’s a joy to see them on stage when they are done.
What’s your favourite part of designing and producing costumes?
I love when we get to the finishing stages! Not quite when it’s all finished, but when we’re getting to the end there’s an excitement to how much relief there’ll be when it’s finally all finished and sent off to the kids. I feel myself getting as excited and energetic during this stage as I do when I first start the production process at the beginning of the year.
What are the special things you have to consider when making a ballet costume?
When we’re designing the costumes, I also look into the choreography with the teachers so I have an idea of the movement. It makes an impact of certain aspects of the costumes – whether they need some accessories, whether we can use certain fabrics. It has to be easy to move in because they are, after all, performing in a ballet show. We also have to look into the safety of the students. You have to make sure the costumes are comfortable to dance in, that they won’t become too hot. We also have to make sure that the costumes are secure – that there won’t be any malfunctions on stage.
The third thing we look into is how the costume will look on stage – whether it will be highlighted. The teachers usually do the lighting for the show around the costume and the choreography so I don’t have to worry too much about that, but we have to make sure the costume details don’t get lost on stage, or that it’s not too much.
What’s the toughest costume you’ve had to execute in all the shows you’ve done?
I don’t think I can pick out any one costume that’s been hard to execute. Yes, there have been some difficulties in the past but it has never been something we could not handle. There hasn’t been a challenge yet that has been too much for us.