The Common Thread

November 13, 2015

Boston Conservatory is considered by many to be the hidden gem of the Boston arts scene for its affordable, high-quality performances by the rising stars that make up the student body. In recent audience surveys, patrons have called it “better than Broadway” and are consistently impressed by the “outstanding” production value, appreciating everything from artistic and musical direction to set, lighting and costume design.

The conservatory’s success in creating immersive worlds on stage comes from a professional team of designers that work tirelessly to transform each director’s vision into something tangible. An integral part of that team is the Boston Conservatory Costume Shop.

“A costume is the final step in becoming a character,” says opera student Samantha Schmid (M.M. ’15, P.S.C. ’16, voice). “For me, the world of the character isn’t complete until I step into my costume.”

Led by Manager Rebecca Shannon Butler and Assistant Manager Amanda Feeley, the team works on more than 450 dance, theater, and opera costumes in a given season, each garment a unique labor of love that begins with a concept and grows into an elaborate, intricately constructed outfit. With the help of a hired stock manager, they also manage more than 500 stock costumes that are rented to students, faculty, staff, and even local production companies. Over the years, Butler estimates her team has handled tens of thousands of costumes.

Luckily, Butler and Feeley are supported by an enthusiastic student staff that helps them bring their creations to life. Together, the team runs the gamut of pattern drafting, dye work, tailoring, stitching, crafts, millinery (hat-making), mask-making, and anything necessary to accommodate the ideas that a designer might think up. Students are also involved in taking measurements, helping with fittings and making emergency costume adjustments during performances.

The hands-on work gives students practical experience in threading together a production. The skills they develop by working with professional designers and costume builders better position them to create materials for their own projects outside of the classroom. In a time when many young artists are producing or creating their own work, this ability to function as more than a performer is invaluable.

Just as the Boston Conservatory is a hidden gem of the local performance world, the school’s costume shop is the hidden gem of the production team. The comprehensive support it provides to directors and students alike is the common thread in helping prepare conservatory students for the next stage of their career.

"The Common Thread" first appeared in the WINTER 2015 issue of STAGES, the conservatory's bi-annual magazine. The article appears in its original form.