A Found Object Fairy Tale From the Costume Shop

Danny Reinan, copy editor

Two costume pieces for Augsburg’s upcoming production of “Into the Woods,” taken by Danny Reinan on March 8, 2022

Costume designers are some of the unsung heroes of the theater world, working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that each character’s look expresses the essence of who they are. But while most costume designers work exclusively with thread and textiles, the design team at Augsburg has been charged with the tricky task of incorporating everyday objects like forks, plastic bottles and toilet paper into their designs, in order to fit the found object theme of the upcoming musical “Into the Woods.”

Helming this design challenge is Stacey Palmer, the costume shop manager, who explained that the found object theming is meant to tie in with the play’s overall themes of misdirection. “Part of the theme of the play is that not everything is as it seems,” she said. “How do we turn these objects into something that isn’t what they seem?” To that end, she’s spinning unlikely objects into characterful costumes, converting loofahs into dresses, garbage bags into cloaks and yarn into facial hair, constantly playing with audience expectations as to what each of these items could be for.

Still, despite the unlikely theme, character still remains at the heart of Palmer’s design process. She starts by poring over the script. “I cling very much to the text of the show and find hidden meanings here and there, and wonder how to interpret that into their look,” she said. From there, she looks beyond the script, imagining what aspects of a character’s backstory might exist outside of its pages – asking herself the question “what happened before?” 

These characterful touches are entwined with the found objects, evident in the assortment of recipes that form the Baker’s Wife’s dress, or Cinderella’s apron, which is made from a man’s shirt – “It’s a piece of her father that she wears on herself, since she loves him so much,” Palmer explained. Palmer also takes into account what motivates the character, and also allows that question to guide the object selection process – such as in the case of the ravenous Wolf, who is driven by hunger, and thus, wears a headdress made of kitchen utensils.

First-year theater student and costume shop worker Kayla Mielke, who also plays the Witch in the production, has had yarn strewn about her tiny dorm for weeks. That’s because she’s been hard at work crocheting Rapunzel’s wig, which is composed of a bunch of 13-foot long, rotini-esque curls. “Crocheting is something I do to destress, so I was really excited about it – I needed something to do to destress, and it could also be helpful!” she said. Although it’s been meticulous work that Mielke has done in addition to her existing responsibilities, it’s also been a rewarding experience because it’s been a point of connection between her and her roommate. “I taught her to crochet and she’s helping me with the long pieces,” said Mielke. “It’s been nice to bond with her over it.”

But why use the found object theme in the first place? Director and theater department chair Darcey Engen wanted it to represent the urgency by which these stories must be told. “Why do we feel the need to hear [fairy tales] over and over again?” she said. “That need is what I’m really interested in.” To Engen, the immediacy of these stories is represented perfectly by these found objects, as if the cast is just telling them with what happens to be nearby. “We’re in such a precarious time… having that feeling of, we’re gonna do theater and just grab everything around us,” she said. “We don’t need all this fancy stuff, we’re just people.” With the creativity of the costume shop team bolstering the authenticity at the heart of the production, “Into the Woods” is sure to be a raw, heartfelt experience.
“Into the Woods” will run from April 7-10, and tickets will be available for purchase on the Theater Box Office website beginning on March 25.