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The Question, October 1, 2012
SUSANA VERA Costume Designer
by Estelle Rosen
Susana Vera has worked as Costume Designer and couturière for over a decade. She received her BFA with honours in studio painting prior to studying at the renowned Dalhousie University Costume program. Ms Vera is currently working on Harlem Duet for Black Theatre Workshop. Her recent credits include The Bacchae and The Heretics of Bohemia for Scapegoat Carnivale, Intimate Apparel for Centaur Theatre, Haunted Hillbilly for SideMart Grocery, The Taming of the Shrew for Repercussion Theatre, On 2nd Avenue and Equus for the Segal Centre. Susana has received a MECCA for costume design of the Jungle Book for Geordie Productions and has been nominated for serveral others.
CHARPO: What's the worst 'wardrobe malfunction' that ever happened on stage during a performance, and how do you prepare for unexpected problems?
VERA: I have a very vivid memory of my biggest "wardrobe malfunction". The play was set in the 1930's based on a true story about an elderly heavy- set woman. The actress cast for this role was thin... and boney for lack of better words. So we made a fat suit for her which included breasts filled with small bags of rice to create the sagging effect required to age her.
The suit I designed was a beautiful purple two piece with straight skirt and intricately patterned jacket. She looked amazing and authentically "large". I was very proud of her silhouette. The actress asked for the jacket fastening to be string ties rather than button and snap. My gut said, "this is not secure", but I trusted her opinion as she often performs at the Shaw and Stratford Festivals. I assumed they must do string fastenings there.
During an audience preview night the string fastening untied in the middle of her performance. Of course it happened at the most dramatic moment, as the actress passionately flung her arms... for what seemed … forever! Sitting in the audience, I gasped when her jacket flew open and stayed open as her fat suit breast was thrown to and fro. The actress didn't know this was happening as the fat suit is a covering and she could not feel air on her chest as would happen if her bare skin were exposed.
The end result was she asked for the button and snap I originally designed. Since that incident I always stand by my gut feeling even if it gets me into an argument.
Since every theatre show is different, every costume is different. I've never made the same thing twice in the last 12 or more years I've been building shows. I've worked as a costume maker before becoming a designer. Predicting possible problems is not foolproof. But in general I test the sturdiness with more force than an actor would and I hope that most blunders happen before an audience show.
My goal is to only see theatrical drama rather than wardrobe tragedy on stage!
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