If you think it's hard to find something to wear yourself, just ask any of Houston's dozens of costume directors charged with clothing one group of actors in authentic Victorian garb before switching gears to dressing a convent of nuns. It's a difficult task that can get expensive fast—another challenge for small, resource-poor theater companies.
But now, thanks to a Jamail Innovation Grant from Houston’s Arts Alliance, Main Street Theater is now spearheading an initiative dubbed the Costume Connection that allows theaters around the city—and further afield—to share their sartorial resources.
“Sharing costumes isn’t new,” says Rebecca Green Udden, Main Street’s executive artistic director. “We borrow from people, they borrow from us. But what this allows us to do is to have an inventory of all that’s out there so that members can see what’s available.”
Area theatrical companies can pay a yearly membership fee, which allows them access to the entire collection. Udden says that includes everything from the costumes for Madeline’s Christmas, the costumes from Main Street’s Tudor-era epics Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the inventory from the now-defunct Bayou City Concert Musicals, men’s suits, hats, military uniforms, and all manner of more contemporary clothing.
The collection is housed in a facility off Highway 59 and Fountain View, a 4,500-square-foot space that Udden says is so packed, she’s in the process of sourcing a vendor to create specialty racks to better organize it.
“My hope for the collection is that it will be so successful, it will be self-sustaining, and we’ll have a full-time person to manage it,” she says. “I really think it will help theater companies save some money. When a designer approaches a show, if he or she can’t find a specific costume necessary for the script, there are two options: make it from scratch or go online and order it. This will allow that designer to be able to take a piece from the collection.”
While members will have access to the collection, Udden says rentals will be available at “reasonable rates” for schools and other organizations. Currently, she and other members are working on specific policies for the collection, and she’s excited to see it come to fruition.
“We might consider the same thing with props one day,” she says.