June 19, 2013
Keeping the actors and actresses of the Crossroads Repertory Theatre (CRT) in costumes is a family affair for Indiana State University alumna Clair Hummel and her mother, Madonna, who has supervised ISU's costume shop for the past six years.
It's not the first time the pair has collaborated; in fact, they've been in charge of costuming for the summer theater for five seasons.
"We go back to Clair's high school days," Madonna said. "We must have purchased every $1-a-yard fabric in town for the various high school productions, which have no budget."
"It all started when I was cast as a nun in Terre Haute South's production of the ‘Sound of Music'," Clair added. "I looked at the costume and immediately thought, ‘How can we make this better? Could we add this or do that'?"
From that point on, a partnership was born. Clair comes up with the designs and Madonna brings them to life with the help of the nearest sewing machine.
"My mom and dad are both very creative and artsy," Clair said. "They've never told me no when I've approached them about an idea or a project."
Clair's roots in design go back to childhood and her participation in 4-H.
"I learned to sew at a young age through 4-H," she said, adding that she watched Madonna work at a local bridal shop work with fabrics, trim and embellishments. That's where the daughter fell in love with the sparkle.
"It wouldn't be a Clair Hummel production without some sparkle," she said with a wink and a smile.
When Clair arrived at Indiana State, she had no idea that an opportunity of a lifetime awaited her.
"I was able to design as an undergrad," Clair recalled. "The second Sherry [McFadden, theater department chair] learned I could sew, she turned me loose."
By the time she graduated in 2008 with a degree in theater, she had designed costumes for six main stage shows, in addition to acting in several other productions.
"I'm eternally grateful to ISU for that opportunity," Clair said, adding that when she applied to the University of Houston for graduate school they were impressed at her experience and portfolio.
After earning a MFA from Houston's costume design program, Clair explored design on a different level.
"I did a lot of fashion - working as a stylist at a Houston boutique. Then the world of designing costumes for theater productions called," Clair said.
"I started picking up more costume jobs," she said. "Now I do that full time while living in Houston."
But in Houston, Clair is a one-woman shop - She not only designs, but also constructs and fits costumes. When she's stumped, Clair picks up the phone for a consultation."She'll call and say ‘Mom, I need to pick your brain'," Madonna said.
"I had to build a skirt with a hula hoop in it for a production for Daniel and the Dreamcatcher," Clair said. "I had the designs but was stumped when it came time to construct it. I sent mom photos and over the phone we figured out the technical issues."
The mother-daughter costume duo get started early when it comes to CRT.
"Neither one of us like to procrastinate," Madonna said.
Clair receives the scripts for the selected productions in early March. She carefully reads each one, analyzing characters through their actions and words. While reading, Clair makes notes about time period, setting and even color.
"I work with the director one on one to get the vision of how we want to portray that character," Clair said. "I tell a story through costumes."
After reading the scripts, doing research and talking with the director, Clair develops a master plan - going character by character, detailing all the different looks for each throughout the production.
"Then mom and I decide whether to build it from scratch, pull costumes from stock, or to purchase items," said Clair, who also designed costumes for the 2012 Houston Shakespeare Festival.
As one might imagine, building costumes is more labor intensive. In addition to the design time, purchasing fabrics and trim, costume construction and fitting all take time and consideration.
That is the area where the younger Hummel excels, using her creativity and finding inspiration all around her -- even down to a fish.
When she was designing for a production of "Richard III" at the University of Houston, the color of an arapaima, a South American tropical fish, caught her eye and her imagination.
"That was it," Clair said. "It was about finding inspiration and translating that into color and texture. Inspiration can be found everywhere."
They needed an abundance of inspiration for the 2013 CRT season, with close to 70 costumes needed.
"There are a lot of looks and they are all period shows," Clair said. "There are two shows set in the 1930s, one set in the 1960s and another set in the 18th Century."
And there's a greater challenge. One show, "Woman in Black," is set in four different time periods.
"We just can't go out and buy pieces," Clair added. "Correctly portraying period details is my job."
"She may have a very specific look with a specific fabric and color combination," Madonna said.
Even if they locate the perfect costume from stock, the work isn't finished.
"It's rare we can pull a costume from stock to fit someone," Madonna said, adding vintage clothing is sized for smaller people.
In that case, they copy the look of the garment, but drawing up a pattern, purchasing fabric and building the garment to the size needed.
"Other times, we can take a stock costume and resize it or revamp it," Madonna said.
"You can't be afraid to get in there and make it work."
"It's about trust and compromise," Madonna said.
Clair agrees, adding it's a luxury to have such a gifted person in charge of clothing construction.
"If there's something we need to change at the last minute, I know she can whip it out."
To learn more about Crossroads Repertory Theatre, go to http://crossroadsrep.com/ .
Crossroads Repertory Theatre 2013 Season at Indiana State University
* You Can't Take It With You
June 21, 22, July 16, 20, 25 at 7:30 p.m. and June 23 at 4 p.m.
June 28, 29, July 17, 26 at 7:30 p.m. and June 30 and July 21 at 4 p.m.
* The Servant of Two Masters
July 5, 6, 18, 24, 27 at 7:30 p.m. and July 7 at 4 p.m.
* The Woman In Black
July 12, 13, 19, 23 at 7:30 p.m. and July 14 at 4 p.m.
Call 812-237-3333 for tickets.
Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or email@example.com
The mother-daughter team of Clair and Madonna Hummel have costumed the summer theater productions for five years.