Aloha Friends of The Actors Group! Although we’ve had many guests costumers at TAG, the truth is simple, most of the costume magic happens because of one woman: Christine Valles! Christine, known to many as only Chris, has been with TAG for five seasons. Chris has volunteered extensively, working the wine bar, helping TAG with grant writing in her free time, and is our chief costumer. She received a Po’okela in 2014 for The Heiress and an Excellence in Service recognition. She received a 2012 Po’okela as a member of the design team for the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s Henry IV, Part 2. In addition to costume design, she has spent many years doing costume construction for the Hawaii Opera Theatre, the IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre, Hawaii Shakespeare Festival, Manoa Valley Theatre, and hula halau Na Pualei o Likolehua.
Chris is a very busy woman but she took the time to talk with me about her life, theatre and The Realistic Joneses.
Aloha Chris! It’s always lovely to see you. So I’m going to start off the same way I’ve started off with a lot of the folks involved with The Realistic Joneses, please tell me how you got involved with Theatre.
I’m not sure, how I got into the theatre world. I remember Carlynn Wolfe (TAG’s costumer for many years) asking me to sew something for her for Gem of the Ocean and The Miracle Worker. And, I remember offering to give her a ride to Saver’s to look for costumes. Before I knew it, we were going to thrift stores all over the island and she was giving me a list of stuff to look for. It just sort of snowballed after that. I was taking measurements, sewing, shopping, doing fittings, sitting in on rehearsals, helping with dress parade.
HA! I love it; theatre ambushed you! Like a lot of us were 🙂 It is an excellent initiation, really. So you were going to thrift stores and helping with the parades and ..
…after about a year she started telling people I was co-costumer. And then she left for the “big-time” and went to work at MVT. I panicked when Laurie and Brad asked if I would still do costumes. I kept saying, “I’m only a seamstress, I’m not a costumer!” They wouldn’t listen, so here I am.
LOL yep that sounds like dear Laurie and Brad, they often see things that the rest of us miss, and they work to bring out the best in us all. That’s a beautiful story, Chris. So, dear Carlynn Wolfe was an inspiration to you, but were there any other theatrical inspirations you pulled on as you became a costumer?
There are some amazing costumers in this town. They’ve got years of experience and training and they’re all willing to share, teach, and nurture a poser like me. Carlynn and Peggy Krock have taken me under their wing; teaching me through on-the-job training. They are both brilliant with period costumes. Sandy Finney and Peggy are wizards when it comes to making hats. I have them to thank for being able to make three top hats in three days for Shari Lynn’s first Gershwin show.
I’ve taken a couple of costume design and construction classes from Cheri Vasek at UH Manoa, which have given me a solid foundation in the technical aspects of designing for a show. Who knew that a costume designer has to read the script at least 10 times to do a good job. I walk around quoting lines from plays to amuse the cast during rehearsals.
Volunteering as a stitcher for Hawaii Opera Theatre (HOT) has given me a picture of professional costuming on a large scale. Some opera costumes are surprisingly heavy and the construction techniques can get pretty complex. Kathe James has taught me some great sewing short cuts and she’s a master at making patterns in the blink of an eye.
Anna Foster is a genius at making masks and head pieces. Carlynn and I have been begging her to have a workshop so we can learn some of her tricks, but she is just too busy designing sets and making great costumes.
Wonderful! Yes indeed, don’t ever underestimate the talent in Honolulu and throughout the islands. It is so fantastic that we have such a sharing community here on O’ahu. Now that you most definitely are costumer in your own right, and highly sought after in the community, what are some of the most important things you do when you prepare to costume to a show?
Get a lot of sleep before rehearsals start.
Right? That’s for everyone involved. But you have a lot less time to prepare than many in the cast and crew.
Once I start working on costumes I’m usually up until 2 in the morning doing research, sewing, preparing for fittings, and organizing everything. I can shop during the day, but I usually can’t do my sewing and altering until after I’ve had a chance to watch rehearsals and meet with the cast. After a rehearsal, I go home and sew so things are ready for the next day. I also do lots and lots of research to learn about the play and the time period it’s set in. I Google like a mad woman.
Yay Google, search engines have changed our world. Can you tell me a little bit more about your process?
As I mentioned earlier, I have to read the script several times for different reasons. First to just enjoy it and get a general feel for the story. Then I read it several more time, carefully looking for clues to the characters personality, costume requirements such as a watch or pockets, and references that might have an implication for fit, color, style, etc. For example, in The Heiress, there is a whole scene about the red dress that the Catherine (the Heiress) wears. It had to be just the right red, in the just the right style in order for the scene to have the impact needed to carry the story line. (Did I just make costuming sound more important than acting? Oh dear. Well Peggy Krock and I did win a Po’okela for that show and Tracy Olival got one for the role of Catherine.)
I am sure the actors won’t mind; after all, costumers help the actors tell a story. How do you decide what an actor wears and when? There are some hints in the script, but you must invent most.
As I go through, page-by-page, I construct a costume plot. This is where I list every costume piece for each actor, scene by scene. And I mean every costume piece down to the underwear in some cases.
Once I know what pieces I need, I start pulling stuff from the TAG stock and go shopping. Savers is my go to store, especially on Tuesdays (senior discount day). If I can’t find what I need from shops I might rent or borrow from other theatres, or sew. Several of my husband’s shirts have been on stage. One of his shirts and a hat will be used in The Realistic Joneses, as well as one of my blouses and a purse.
That’s terrific. I love that you are turning a shirt into a hat! We will have to keep an eye out for that costume piece on opening night. On a serious note, what is it about this play that speaks to you?
There’s a wackiness about this play that I just love. It’s funny, and touching, and serious all at the same time. But what I really relate to is the struggle that Jennifer goes through trying to be a good caregiver to her sick husband. My husband is disabled and I face many of the same challenges she does. Some of her lines really hit home.
And your husband shares the same name with one of the characters in The Realistic Joneses. Yes, I can imagine that much of this play is hitting home for you. And we are all very grateful for your work and for making this show come alive. Goodness knows, you have a lot on your plate, and I know you take tap class with me on Thursdays, but what else do you do in your free time?
Goof off. Plus wrangle two rambunctious labs.
I love you Labs!
I care for my wonderfully patient husband, take piano lessons, and do a little consulting on grants management and proposal writing.
You are an amazing woman Chris and we are lucky to have you. Thank you for all that you do for TAG! Break legs and I will see you on the opening for The Realistic Joneses!
The world needs theatre and TAG needs you!
The Realistic Joneses runs February 26 – March 20th, 2016
Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.taghawaii.net or 808-722-6941