Mansfield Park, a drama adapted from the Jane Austen novel that runs through Oct. 11 at the Bing Theatre, is a costume designer’s dream. (Or nightmare, depending on the designer’s point of view.) It has a cast of 20, most of whom change clothes with some regularity. Making things even more interesting, the play moves through time – from 1795 to 1808. Oh, and there’s also a wedding onstage.
None of this has fazed senior Megan Guthrie-Wedemeyer, who is the costume designer for the production. This is the fifth USC show that Guthrie-Wedemeyer, a costume design major at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, has on her resume. She hopes to work in either the film or theater industry, and has spent the last two summers in internships to hone her professional skills. Two years ago, she was a crafts artisan at Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, dyeing and distressing fabric and repairing shoes. Last summer, she was a costume assistant and dresser at the Hollywood Bowl for Spamalot.
She started doing research on Mansfield Park in July, before anyone was cast. Once casting decisions were made, the school’s costume shop became her daily home, including weekends. She made dozens of trips to the cavernous costume storage room in the basement of the Physical Education Building, pulling garments. Many of the pieces she’s using came from stock, but still required alternations or different embellishments. Guthrie-Wedemeyer designed several costumes from scratch, including a young girl’s Empire waist dress, a woman’s black lace bodice lined in silk, and a vest, shirt, breeches and coat for Sir Thomas, the patriarch in the play. That costume, sewn first in muslin and then in the final fabrics, was built by Charlotte Stratton, a costume shop designer.
“We use fabrics and silhouettes of the time,” said Guthrie-Wedemeyer, who put together inspiration boards and detailed sketches early in her process.
Forty-eight hours before opening night, she helped the show’s wardrobe supervisor, Holly Willaume, and crew members carry the contents of two overflowing racks of costumes onto empty racks to roll over to the Bing. As the racks filled, Willaume cast a worried look at the darkening sky. “Those look like storm clouds,” she proclaimed.
The dressers picked up the pace, rolling faster down the sidewalk as it started to sprinkle. Right at the side door of the Bing, the heavens opened. A rack tipped. But it was a fleeting crisis, and Guthrie-Wedemeyer’s costumes that she had planned, chosen and cosseted for months made it inside with just a smattering of rain drops, ready to create the illusion of another time and place.
Mansfield Park performs at Bing Theatre from October 7-11.