Putting on a role

Mil­burn Stone cos­tumer helps char­ac­ters come to life


Spe­cial to the Whig

— While Lind­say El­lis may never ap­pear in front of an au­di­ence, her cre­ations put on a show al­most ev­ery month at the Mil­burn Stone Theatre.

El­lis re­cently be­came the the­ater’s full-time cos­tume shop man­ager. That means she de­signs, sews, se­lects and or­ders the var­i­ous cos­tumes that ap­pear in the the­ater’s shows – which re­cently have ranged from classics like “West Side Story” to fam­ily shows like “Dis­ney’s The Lit­tle Mer­maid.”

Al­though she briefly lived in Cecil County as a tod­dler, El­lis, now 31, was raised in Aus­tralia. It was while tak­ing a sewing class in high school that she started think­ing about cos­tum­ing as a po­ten­tial ca­reer.

“I re­ally like this,” El­lis re­called think­ing. “I think I can take this a lit­tle bit fur­ther.”

She got her foot in the door when an ac­quain­tance con­nected her with a BBC pro­duc­tion that needed in­terns. Al­though she can’t re­call the name of the pro­duc­tion now, she said that’s when she said she re­al­ized, “OK, I want to do this.”

Af­ter that, she took what­ever art classes she could in high school, stud­ied fash­ion for two years and the­ater cos­tum­ing for four years, and put in some time be­hind the scenes with the Aus­tralian bal­let.

Since she had dual ci­ti­zen­ship, El­lis de­cided to re­turn to the states in 2008 to try out the New York the­ater scene. She held an ap­pren­tice­ship with En­sem­ble Stu­dio Theatre and then Cirque du Soleil. That might sound glam­orous, but since she was still learn­ing El­lis was the one who came in at 7 a.m. to wash cos­tumes. (Mostly on gen­tle cy­cle or hand washed, she said.)

El­lis re­turned to the area about two years to be with her fam­ily and started look­ing for local op­por­tu­ni­ties. She started with the Mil­burn Stone as a vol­un­teer. In Novem­ber, the the­ater hired her of­fi­cially.

While cos­tum­ing is her job, she per­son­ally dresses for com­fort. Her job re­quires her to be ac­tive as she digs through the cos­tume shop or cre­ates a cos­tume. Al­though she loves work­ing in a the­ater, she said


Lind­say El­lis re­cently be­came the Mil­burn Stone Theatre’s full-time cos­tume shop man­ager.

she prefers to be be­hind the scenes.

She prefers work­ing on pe­riod shows, ones that al­low her to get cre­ative. The latest show, “Green Day’s Amer­i­can Id­iot,” was some­what a trip down mem­ory lane for her as she fig­ured out what out­fits from the punk era – a pe­riod she grew up in – could ap­pear on­stage.

“It’s very ‘90s, very grunge and punk,” she said of the cos­tumes in the show. “We have gone with a lot of studs and black and grays.”

She also has fun with the the­ater’s more imag­i­na­tive pieces. She built the Don­key cos­tume for the most re­cent pro­duc­tion of “Shrek.” “Dis­ney’s The Lit­tle Mer­maid” also re­quired creativ­ity as she fig­ured out how to make hu­mans look like birds – or fish or mer­peo­ple.

“What they’re wear­ing is who they are,” she said.

Her next projects in­clude the cos­tumes for “A Few Good Men” (she has to spe­cial order uni­forms and suits), “Mu­lan Jr.” (which will re­quire a com­bi­na­tion of spe­cial or-

ders and hand­build­ing) and “Cats.” Al­though the pro­duc­tion of “Cats” is not un­til Novem­ber, El­lis said she has al­ready started think­ing about cos­tumes for the Broad­way fa­vorite.

“Those pieces are go­ing to be very iconic as well,” she said.

El­lis’ cos­tume bud­get de­pends on the show. For some­thing like “Amer­i­can Id­iot,” El­lis is able to make cos­tumes from what is al­ready in stor­age, and some­times what cast mem­bers al­ready own. She is also an ac­tive thrifter, vis­it­ing stores like Good­will, Uniquely Odd and Plato’s Closet. For more uni­form looks, she will shop Wal-Mart or Ama­zon.

Cos­tum­ing starts with El­lis re­search­ing the ac­tual an­i­mal or be­ing the ac­tor will por­tray. To cre­ate Scut­tle’s look for “The Lit­tle Mer­maid,” she searched gull im­ages for in­spi­ra­tion. A photo of a gull fly­ing against the sun with each feather de­tailed led her to cre­ate the fi­nal look – a white Ox­ford shirt with strips of fab­ric hang­ing from the arms painted with shades of black and grey to add di­men­sion.

“I didn’t want it to look like a tra­di­tional bird,” she said of the char­ac­ter. And not ev­ery bird tap dances with a mer­maid.

She will also meet with the ac­tors to talk about how they see their char­ac­ter. It’s im­por­tant that ac­tors feel com­fort­able in what they are wear­ing be­cause that can af­fect the per­for­mance, she said. In ad­di­tion to meet­ing one-on-one with ac­tors, she will also at­tend re­hearsals, talk with the pro­duc­tion staff and watch the show to see how it all comes to­gether.

While there is of­ten al­ready an idea out there for what those char­ac­ters should look like, El­lis said she still en­joys the chal­lenge of mak­ing her own ver­sion. For Ur­sula in “The Lit­tle Mer­maid,” she out­fit­ted the ac­tress with a clas­sic black gown and then cre­ated a ten­ta­cle belt to strap on. That was made with dryer pip­ing and pool noodles.

Her 3-year-old daugh­ter, Lily, is as much of fan of the stage char­ac­ters as other kids. She will come with El­lis to the oc­ca­sional re­hearsal and has her own cos­tume dress-up box at home. El­lis said one of her fa­vorite things to do is at­tend the mee­tand-greets cast mem­bers have with young au­di­ences. In May, the the­ater held a princess party with “The Lit­tle Mer­maid.”

“You see all the kids re­al­ize that’s ac­tu­ally the char­ac­ter,” she said. “To me, I’m just think I’m do­ing some­thing I love.”



Cos­tumer Lind­say El­lis dressed the cast of “Green Day’s Amer­i­can Id­iot” in grunge and punk fash­ions found in thrift stores or the ac­tors’ own clos­ets


Cos­tumes for “Amer­i­can Id­iot” hang on dis­play in the men’s dressing room at the Mil­burn Stone Theatre.

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