Dramatic Design

Second Year Law Student talks to about her love of theatre design, and how being involved in DST isn’t all about the spotlight.

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So how did you get involved with costume design in the first place?

Well I did GCSE Drama at school, and that involved a bit of thinking about costumes, and the over-all design of plays. Then when I came to Durham as a Fresher I got involved with the Hatfield Pantomime doing costumes for that…. Then everything led on from there, as I got involved with Hatfield’s Lion Theatre Company, through which I met other DST members from around the university! It’s not just the costumes though – I love making the posters etc. as well! It’s all the arty stuff that I enjoy.


Had you acted before then?

Not really, no! It was never really my thing. I really enjoy going to the theatre though, so this was a good way to get involved with it.


What kind of costumes have you seen that inspire you?

I went to see a production of ‘A Midsummers’ Night Dream’ in Oxford, which had a modern twist that was done so well. Fairies in fishnets was just an ideal way to bring Shakespeare to life a bit.


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What would you say in your favourite bit of the process?

Well the end is the least stressful… when it comes to the show, it’s largely left to the actors to do what they need to do, and I can just enjoy it! But really, it’s great to see everything come together in the later rehearsals; everyone is always so excited to see their costumes, and that feeling is infectious.
You’ve been involved in ‘Blithe Spirit’, ‘Waiting for Godot’,  ‘Our Country’s Good’, and you’ve got ‘The Government Inspector’ coming up. What has been your favourite production that you’ve worked on so far?

The best bits have been all the experiences actually working in the theatre – I’ve enjoyed meeting lots of  interesting people, without any preference between the shows themselves! I was probably most proud of my pantomime costumes though, as the director didn’t have any boundaries for me: they just wanted the costumes to be ‘spectacular’. I think its important that costumes are intricate, with a lot of attention to detail, and the panto. costumes reflected that! Plus they were all made by hand…


Do you have any hints or tips for someone interested in doing what you do?

I think it is mainly about knowing where to get the costumes from! Charity shops, Ebay and Asos Marketplace are all really useful for locating stuff. It makes it more expensive if you leave everything to the last minute, so keep that in mind as well. Plus budgeting is obviously very important. When I did the panto. costumes, I have £100 to organise 25 costumes! It forced me to think outside the box (or even ‘in the box’, making costumes out of cardboard)! I do sew things on to costumes a lot myself too, as that then gives it all the necessary details!


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What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without when doing a show?

A needle and thread. I don’t have a sewing machine in Durham, so I have to make lots of my costumes by hand. I’ve often had to sew people into costumes as well, as it’s actually easier that way. Plus, when I was working on Blithe Spirit last year, one of the main characters came off stage with a broken dress strap, and we had to fix it before she went back on again!


Alissa’s design skills will be in action in the upcoming production of ‘The Government Inspector, 29th – 31st January, in the Assembly Rooms. She has worked on this show in conjunction with her good friend Shahnaz Ford.


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Photographs: Amy Price, Samuel Kirkman.

Images: Alissa Cooper.

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