Focus On: Costume at RADA
If you’ve ever been on one of RADA’s public tours, taking you behind the scenes of our theatres, studios and workshops, you might have had a glimpse of our extensive costume store. With over 20,000 costumes, ranging from detailed period dresses to contemporary clothing – not to mention hundreds of pairs of shoes and boots – the costume store gives an insight into the huge variety of work carried out by the wardrobe department.
We teach costume-making and wardrobe supervision primarily on our Postgraduate Diploma in Theatre Costume, a two-year course for students who want to develop costume skills to a specialist level. Students on the Technical Theatre and Stage Management courses with an interest in costume can also opt to study the disciplines within their theatre production training.
RADA Wardrobe is a busy department, with Postgraduate Diploma students working on all the public shows, making, altering and creating costumes. Students also work as a dresser on at least one show and, towards the end of their first year, could work as a wardrobe supervisor, responsible for maintaining costume quality across the production.
The focus of the Postgraduate Diploma is on constructing costumes from first principles – pattern-cutting and basic sewing – through to the finished garment. Diane Favell, Head of Wardrobe at RADA, explains what students can expect from their training: ‘We start the students with basic sewing, including hems, openings, pleats, tucks, pockets and fastenings. We then spend the first term concentrating on pattern-cutting and draping. The skills in the second term turn to corset-making and millinery, and in the third term, tailoring and supervising.’
Students learn how to handle different fabrics, with introductions to fabric treatments and dyeing. It’s not just about the clothes that the actors wear – the wardrobe department is responsible for a character’s entire look, including make-up, hair-styling and wig-styling, and if it’s an area they’re keen on, students can develop their skills in these areas too.
In the second year, students choose to focus on either making or supervising. The course gives students professional level experience, so they can move easily into jobs in the industry.
Diane explains: ‘Costume students come from a wide range of backgrounds and previous study. Our training hones their skills and develops confidence and speed, preparing them for a successful career. They are also encouraged to go on an industry placement in the area they are interested in, focusing their ambitions and allowing them to make industry connections’.
The particular challenges of each production across the year gives students the chance to research, find and create a wide variety of garments, providing hands-on experience across historical, contemporary and specialised costumes.
Applications are now open for the FdA and BA (Hons) in Technical Theatre and Stage Management, and the Postgraduate Diploma in Theatre Costume.