The Costumer brings in young thespian for 100-year celebration

Company's business reach an eye-opener
Grace White with some of the hats she helped create for Park Playhouse's production of "The Music Man."
Grace White with some of the hats she helped create for Park Playhouse's production of "The Music Man."

Categories: Entertainment

When Grace White stepped off the plane and into the terminal at Albany International Airport, she made a full stop. 

“I don’t think that I’ve ever double-taked so hard,” White said.

People from The Costumer greeted her, as she expected, but they were outfitted in elite chauffeur costumes. 

It was an apt introduction for White, who was awarded a two-week internship with The Costumer through the International Thespian Society.

“We have a lot of fun around here,” said Erik Johnsen, the owner of The Costumer

For Johnsen, this is a year of firsts. It’s his first full year as the owner of the Schenectady-based costume design/rental shop and it’s his first year taking on an intern like White. The internship is part of The Costumer’s celebration of their 100th anniversary. Johnsen partnered with the International Thespian Society to create the internship as a way to carry on and expose the next generation to costume design. 

“One thing I’ve learned so far is how much there is to learn,” White said.

She’s a Washington state native who just graduated from Bothell High School. Last year, White was recognized by the International Thespian Society for her costume designs and was awarded the internship with The Costumer.

Although White is new to costume design (she began designing in 2015), she’s spent much of her time in the theater, either as an actor, a dancer or helping backstage with costume design.

Throughout the internship, she’s worked with Danielle Patton, a costume designer with The Costumer. Patton has been designing for the theater since she was in high school and honed her design skills at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Each week, she creates upwards of four costumes and has plenty of experience to share with White. During the first few days of White’s internship, the pair worked on costumes for Park Playhouse.

For White, that meant working on a lot of hats. 

“They give me the jobs I can handle, which is very supportive,” White said. She played the part of the milliner and sewed on decorative plastic flowers and ribbon on several hats for an upcoming Park Playhouse production. 

She was also working on a few pieces for “The Lion King” the day that The Gazette spoke with her.

“It’s a little claim to the show,” White said.

Although she won’t be majoring in theater when she heads off to Brigham Young University — she’ll be working on a degree in fine arts — in the fall, she hopes to stay involved with theater and continue learning about costume design. 

“Costumes are such a strong place for people to get characterization from. It’s a huge element in the world of the production and painting the picture. In Seattle, they’re [doing] a lot of minimalist set designs these days. So it’s interesting to see how much they rely on costumes,” White said. 

When she first came to Schenectady, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Judging from what she knew about The Costumer, White expected to have a chance to speak with one or two costume designers and maybe shadow them as they made alterations. 

But The Costumer is a much bigger production than White (and even some locals) realize, according to Johnsen.

After taking a tour of one of several costume vaults at The Costumer, which has about 150,000 pieces, White began to get a sense of the shop’s scope. 

“You forget that someone has to make these along the way,” White said. 

Many customers think of The Costumer as a great spot to buy Halloween costumes. But that’s only a fraction of its business. For the other 364 days of the year, the designers at The Costumer are working on various designs for new shows that are coming to the area and making alterations to rent costumes for high school productions. The team works with more than 20,000 high schools across the country, renting costumes for various productions.

“We can rent out seven ‘Beauty and the Beast’ costume [sets] at once,” Johnsen said. 

It’s a logistical puzzle and one that Johnsen said only comes together because of the team at The Costumer.  

“At first, it was like walking in on a family reunion,” White said. It’s a theatrical and busy family that White feels like she’s become a part of over the last week. 

“It’s about the people at the end of the day,” Johnsen said. 

For the remainder of White’s internship, she will be at Proctors with Scott Payne learning how to work with special effects stage makeup and keeping the legacy of The Costumer alive for generations to come.

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