Nestled within the slickly refurbished armory that Portland Center Stage calls home is the crafts and wig shop, where dedicated artists do the unglamorous work of making costumes look like clothes that a human being would actually wear.
The spacious but narrow room is cluttered with everything necessary to make that mission a reality: wigs perched on mannequin heads, boots lying on a work table and, at the center of it all, costume-crafts artisan Barbara Casement. "I basically do everything for the actor and the costume that's not the actual garment and also is not a prop, although sometimes they kind of mesh," she explains. "I do a lot of shoe work. I make strange things. I do gloves, hats, jewelry."
Casement says her work is a luxury not every theater can afford.
"A lot of theaters don't have money for a separate costume-crafts person," she says. "So it's great that I kind of fell into this job here. There's a fair amount of creativity that goes into it because a lot of times, you'll show designers something and you kind of get to shape their vision."
She likens her job to the scene in Alice in Wonderland where white roses are painted red in honor of the Queen of Hearts.
"It's like, 'We love this shoe, it's the wrong color,'" she says. "'We love this shirt, but it was just bought at Old Navy and it's supposed to be [the character's] favorite shirt that he's worn for the last 20 years.'"
The company is currently staging the cult-hit musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a production that requires several wigs—including one that was bought and then augmented with black roots and a rat tail, and another undergoing a process called fronting, which means sewing in individual hairs to create a believable hairline. "If we do have to change wigs really fast [during a performance], they don't have to be all glued on," Casement explains. "You can just pin them on and they still look like the person's hair and not a hat."
To give the costumes a lived-in look, Casement uses a device that looks like a stick with a pad of bristles attached to its front. "I don't know what this is called, but this is the greatest tool for distressing," she says.
"We make really nice, beautiful period costumes, and she has to shred them," says Eva Steingrueber-Fagan, who is a draper, one of the artists who constructs the costumes after a designer has envisioned them.
For Hedwig, Casement was tasked with creating backups for the batlike plastic wings featured in the show. The graffitilike designs on the wings needed to be redone, which thankfully didn't have to be perfect. "Luckily, for Hedwig, the whole design is very organic, like she did it herself," she says. "Some shows are much more precise."
During WW's visit, Casement also contended with the massive, fragile pair of thigh-high, lace-up high heels that are worn by Hedwig. Delphon Curtis Jr., who plays Hedwig in the current production, broke a heel during a performance. "I'm working on getting a backup pair of boots because we're on the third pair," Casement says. "They're stupid things to do calisthenics in."
Portland Center Stage Spring Highlights
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, through Feb. 23
9 Parts of Desire, March 7-April 19
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, March 29-April 5
Cambodian Rock Band, May 30-June 28
Willamette Week's Spring Arts Guide 2020