Costuming Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was a task that required creativity, teamwork, and some magic! Risa Alecci, the costume designer for this production and one of GREAT’s newest faces, shared her insights into the process of bringing beloved characters with iconic looks to life on stage.
Every designer ultimately wants to put their own twist on things, and that’s one of the fun challenges of a show like this– most of the characters have unique looks that audiences expect, but we get to play within those expectations.”
Risa’s passion for costumes goes back to childhood, when dress-up was her favorite game. Dress-up evolved into a curiosity about the history of dress and fashion, which would take her to the University of Cincinnati, where she got a Master of Fine Arts in Costume Design and Technology.
From there, Risa worked at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan for a number of years before returning to Minnesota to be closer to family. She applied to be a costumer at GREAT, and the rest is a tale as old as time (well actually, just 8 months so far)!
This is my first show designing for GREAT, and it has been really awesome. I feel like GREAT is, as a whole, just really good at collaboration. We worked with the scene shop to make some of the larger costumes look good and feel good for actors, and we couldn’t have done such a massive show without a lot of help from volunteers– many of whom volunteered much more than usual to see this vision through.”
Costumes, props, and even some set pieces for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast were sourced from Olney Theater, a professional theatre in Maryland, as they finished a run of the show just as GREAT secured rights to produce it. However, adapting costumes to fit the specific needs of GREAT’s production was no small feat. Risa planned and oversaw extensive adjustments and even complete overhauls for many of the costumes, ensuring they not only looked beautiful but also seamlessly integrated into the magical world of the play.
Some costumes needed to be adjusted to fit actors, while others needed to be reimagined. The Beast’s furry headpiece and gloves needed to be made anew for GREAT’s actor, and Madame de la Grande Bouche’s costume (also known as the enchanted wardrobe) was too heavy to move comfortably before Risa adjusted it. And that’s only a small fraction of the projects Risa tackled for this production.
In the package that we bought, Belle’s ball gown was actually purple and gold– emphasis on purple. The gold was a sheer layer over the purple, so at a glance you couldn’t really see the gold at all. It was very beautiful, just not what our audiences would recognize or expect. We decided to design and make an entirely new dress for Belle!”
The need for creativity and collaboration shone through not only in the process of retrofitting costumes, but also in the planning of the production’s many quick changes. Throughout the show, actors disappear offstage to appear again less than a minute later as a different character or in a different outfit. This is especially the case for the show’s ensemble cast, who appear as villagers, flatware, and wolves at different points in the show. Wardrobe volunteers wait in the wings to facilitate these quick changes, buttoning and velcroing volunteer actors into different costumes in a matter of seconds!
Belle alone has three quick changes. When I count them all, there are about twenty quick changes in the show. And those are just the ones that qualify as quick changes, which means less than a minute. A lot of others are still really fast!”
Both volunteer actors and wardrobe crew help bring order to the chaos of quick changes, massive costumes, and the limited space backstage to make it all happen. They’ve also left a major impression on Risa as she watches her first design with GREAT onstage.
When I worked at Interlochen, I worked with students, which was amazing in its own way. But working with GREAT volunteers has been really, really fun for me. I was so used to working with students, and now it’s more like I’m working with my peers, but also working with people who are just so excited to have the opportunity to be doing this. That energy and that excitement to be in this space is so much fun to be around!”
If you don’t have your tickets to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast yet, there’s still time! Performances are at the Paramount Center for the Arts now through December 10th. Get your tickets today!