From wigs to shoes, Wayne’s Stefanowicz creates costumes for the stage
Onstage at the Lantern Theater, a cast of seven presents the Philadelphia premiere of “Red Velvet,” a compelling drama which focuses on a key event in the history of London theater. In 1833, New York born Ira Aldridge became the first black actor to play Othello on a major London stage.
“Red Velvet” - extended through Oct. 15 due to popular demand - is about the tensions and conflicting reactions to this event.
Janus Stefanowicz of Wayne is not in the cast, but she had a key role in what the audience sees on the stage. As the costume designer for the production, she was responsible for every detail of the costumes, from shoes to clothing to wigs.
Stefanowicz’s role began when she read the script.
“I thought it was a wonderful script, and for me, it was a fabulous opportunity to research that time period and develop costumes for historical accuracy,” she said.
First Stefanowicz set to work making sketches for all the costumes - 16 in all because some actors wear different costumes for different scenes. Once her sketches were approved, she set to work finding everything needed for each costume.
She ordered some fabrics online.
“There are great sites online which do 19th century reproductions,” she said. Other items were chosen from the Lantern Theater’s stock supply of costumes.
A special challenge involved costumes for Liz Filios, who plays three different roles.
“I wanted to make sure that the silhouettes and fabrics were different for each role,” said Stefanowicz. She certainly succeeded as audience members probably don’t even realize it’s the same actress for all three roles.
In one role, Filios is a Polish reporter wearing a wig with blonde braids and a tailored sweater and skirt. In another role, she’s an actress for the London play.
“She’s sort of young and fun-loving,” said Stefanowicz. “And I found a blouse on E-bay that was floral and way more sexy than the sweater for her first costume.”
As for the wig, she’s now a brunette with lots of curls “because it goes with her character,” said Stefanowicz.
In Filios third role, she’s Margaret Aldridge, wife of the actor. Now she’s a redhead.
“And she’s wearing a beautiful floral cotton dress and a red ribbon buckle belt,” said Stefanowicz.
That dress was one of two that was made from scratch for the production. The other was for Lauren Sowa who plays the role of leading lady Ellen Tree. She wears a blue silky flowing dress - much more elegant than the simpler cotton dress worn by Margaret Aldridge. Stefanowicz purposely wanted the costumes to show the difference in their social status.
Besides the outer garments, Stefanowicz also made three corsets, which were typically worn by Victorian women.
“We put bones between two pieces of fabric,” Stefanowicz said.
As for the male actors, their costumes included high collared shirts, trousers, and “ankle boots.” Stefanowicz bought these online at a site called Men’s Historic Emporium.
She also selected six wigs online. Then she turned them over to her wig designer.
“She did magic with them,” said Stefanowicz. “She curled them, cut them, teased them, lifted and braided them.”
Once all the costumes were assembled, the next step involves fittings for all the cast members as they also rehearsed. Then everything had to be ready for “tech week,” when full dress rehearsals take place and the technical details are ironed out - including any problems with costumes.
During this phase, Stefanowicz sits in the audience, attentively watching, taking notes, and making revisions as needed.
“I check whether the hem’s too long, or whether the curls are blocking her profile,” she said. And she’s always prepared for the unexpected - which happened when the bones popped out of one of the corsets. The wardrobe manager promptly repaired the problem.
Stefanowicz is again in the audience for previews, again attentive needed revision.
But once opening night comes, her role is essentially over and she can simply enjoy what’s unfolding on the stage.
“Opening night is always special,” Stefanowicz said. “You start by putting a sketch on a piece of paper and then you finally get to see it all become a reality. ”
Her achievements have been recognized with three Barrymore awards for Best Costume Design. Besides her work for the Lantern Theater company, Stefanowicz has worked for other theater companies in Philadelphia and in New York. She serves as resident costume designer for Villanova University’s Theatre Department.
The award-winning designer says she’s always preferred a backstage role. to any
Lauren Sowa, David Pica, Liz Filios, David Bardeen, and Forrest McClendon in Lantern Theater Company’s production of Red Velvet, onstage now through Oct. 15, 2017.