Spoleto Festival Wardrobe Director Carolyn Kostopoulos has a keen eye for detail, and that trait enables her, with help from the festival's talented performing artists, to transform costumes into characters.
Many of the organizations presented by the festival, like Miami City Ballet or the National Theatre of Scotland, come equipped with their own wardrobes. But shows produced by the festival, such as the operas “Pia de’ Tolomei” and "Tree of Codes," require original costumes, and that keeps Kostopoulos and her team busy.
Some of the clothing is shipped in; some of it made on site.
“The costumes come from many different places, and this year they were Italian,” Kostopoulos said, referring to the opera production "Pia de’ Tolomei."
Two weeks before the festival, the wardrobe department transports festival-owned costumes from the scene shop off Interstate 26 to the costume shop on the third floor of the Dock Street Theatre.
Sewing machines, mannequins and accessories are organized for easy access—and easy transport to other venues, such as the Sottile Theatre, where “Pia” can be seen.
After seeing the work of costume designer Walter Dundervill, opera director Ong Keng Sen asked him to join the “Tree of Codes” Spoleto Festival team.
Dundervill designed and constructed the “Tree of Codes” costumes, and he joined the cast as “The Dresser,” appearing on stage where he adorns the characters before the eyes of the audience.
Because of all the dress rehearsals and performances throughout the run of the festival, daily wardrobe maintenance demand a lot of time and effort, Kostopoulos said.
“I've always been the lead dresser on the big opera, but it's difficult to run a shop, run the wardrobe and be a dresser,” she said. “I can't sit in the theater during dress rehearsals and sit with the designer and take notes,” Kostopoulos said.
Though the 17-day festival presents its challenges, Kostopoulos said she enjoys working with people from other countries.
“What I love most about the festival is the mix of people, especially Europeans,” she said. “It’s a different culture and it's a culture that I understand,” Kostopoulos said.
Once the last curtain falls on June 10, the costume personnel box up their belongings, return rented costumes and donate clothing that can’t be used again to the Theatre Development Fund Costume Collection, a nonprofit costume rental house in New York City.
Kostopoulos said she hopes the Spoleto costume shop could be used by other arts organizations and schools in the Charleston area.
“Our sewing machines get put in boxes and taken to the warehouse, and then a year later we want them to work really well for four weeks, but they don't,” Kostopoulos said. “If those very machines were used all the time, there would be nothing wrong with them.”
Andrea Henderson is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.