Somehow in the oppressive heat of mid-June, the basement of the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts is cool and airy, with a decent amount of room to move about. The space down below is politely cluttered with various craft and wardrobe materials such as buttons and tiny metal pieces crafted into war emblems. Colorful costumes and props range from a headpiece covered in faux foliage but sporting real antlers from a 9-point buck, to a homemade fat suit comprised of padding and athletic mesh complete with a zipper in the back. After just a quick glance around the room, the effort and talent of those at work is strikingly clear.
Photo by Amelia Wedemeyer
. A look at the GRSF costume department, including supplies for dying fabric and racks of clothing.
“I’ve enjoyed making the costumes,” said Meg Weedon, costume designer for the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” before she admitted that she gets self-conscious when talking about her work with the festival. “I come in, I make clothes, I walk away,” she humbly said of her role.
Since the inaugural year of GRSF in 2004, save for two years, Weedon has made the annual summer trip to Winona from her home in New York City to help bring to life some of Shakespeare’s greatest works by planning, designing, and creating the wardrobe and costumes. This year, Weedon and Lou Bird, costume designer for the productions of “Hamlet” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” along with the costume department crew of 12, will stitch, sew, glue and iron to create each play’s time period and craft every character’s look to convey the vision of festival directors.
“We met December of last year with the directors and other designers to get the time and place set,” Weedon explained of the initial planning process. “We decided we wanted ‘Merry Wives’ set in 1905, when Winona was in its heyday with the lumber industry. The theory is that we could be doing a production of ‘The Merry Wives of Winona.’”
For the turn of the century wardrobe, Weedon said she drew inspiration from movies including “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “The Music Man,” as well as hours of searching phrases such as “ice cream social,” “Victorian fashion,” and “midwest turn of the century.”
“I did a lot of different Google searches,” she explained. “I kept wording [searches] differently to get a lot of different results, and I would also find new search words on each website I went to.”
With a modest budget, Weedon and her team have built a wardrobe that would have fit perfectly in 1905 Winona. Together they have made five full costumes from scratch, meaning that everything a certain character is wearing in a particular scene — pants, vest, shirt jacket, spats, collar, etc. — was crafted by hand. In total, they have created approximately 33 costumes, which include pre-made items, although Weedon is quick to point out that even if a shirt or pair of pants have been bought, there is a good chance that it has been tweaked by either herself or one of her crew. “Every garment, even if it is pre-made, gets touched or handled in some way,” she explained. “We hem pants, put buttons on, remove the collar on shirts and put on a period hard collar.”
John Baird, who works with Weedon in New York City and is “Meg’s sidekick — that’s how everybody knows me,” said that the wardrobe department gets a lot of little odds and ends from the community, such as military pieces and metal bits, which work well for the military theme in “Hamlet” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Baird said of using community resources for props, “I go to yard sales and grab as much as I can.”
Coming back for more
When she’s not in Winona for the two months out of the year, Weedon makes costumes for Broadway as a draper for Carelli Costumes in NYC. She has worked on shows such as “Aladdin,” “Jersey Boys” and “Mamma Mia!” Originally, she became involved with GRSF through Rosemary Ingham, who was involved with the original conception of GRSF. "Rosemary took me under her wing, and [through her influence] I became involved with GRSF and learned the ropes from her,” explained Weedon, who has a graduate degree in design from New York University.
Although Ingham passed away several years ago, Weedon said that she still enjoys coming to Winona each summer for the people and as a way to keep Ingham’s memory alive. “That’s why I keep coming back,” she said. “Because this was her baby and I want to make sure it keeps going.”