RADA's Postgraduate Diploma in Theatre Costume is a specialised course in our Technical Theatre Arts department, offering training in all areas of costume-making and wardrobe supervision, leaving students well-equipped for a career in costume. We spoke to recent graduate Florence Dempster and Head of Wardrobe Diane Favell about what the course offers.
As a postgraduate qualification, the course is aimed at people with a related first degree and/or practical experience who are looking for greater skills, experience and confidence in costume and wardrobe. "This is a course for someone who already has a fair idea of theatre and screen and the role of a wardrobe department within it, has some skills and who is excited by the thought of being involved in bringing costumes to the stage or screen", says Diane. Florence applied for the course after working as a dresser: "Before studying the postgraduate diploma I completed an art foundation at Chichester College, and then spent two years as a dresser at Chichester Festival Theatre. I got to work on productions including Guys and Dolls and Gypsy before they transferred to the West End, which is when I became interested in studying costume as I realised I wanted develop my knowledge in order to progress further into the industry. I decided to apply for the postgraduate programme at RADA after a few years of working as a dresser. I had strong sewing skills which I developed through my A level textiles and personal projects and a love of theatre so it seemed like a natural progression.
I really struggled after my art foundation when applying for universities, as none of the courses on offer really gave me what I was looking for. I was able to apply for RADA based on experience in the industry rather than having an undergraduate degree, which is one of the things I think is so great about this course. It opens applications up to a whole group of people who otherwise wouldn't get the opportunity. There really was only one option as nowhere else offered the hands-on training that RADA does. To me it really appealed that there wasn't a design element to the course, but purely a focus on running wardrobe, supervision and making. There is a lot of freedom to choose your own projects and work within the course to make things you are interested in. We got to work closely with all the other departments as well as professional directors and designers where you are given total responsibility, which was very daunting to start with, but absolutely the best way to learn."
After two years of training, Florence felt more confident going back into the industry with increased knowledge and experience: "I understood more fully how a theatre operates and all the different roles, even just within costume. I built contacts while studying which made me feel a little more connected to the working world, which was very useful". Graduates of the course go on to a wide variety of roles across different media, as Diane explains: "We have graduate students in full-time jobs at some of the major theatres as well as freelance makers working on both large and small shows. We also have graduates working in film and TV, both organising and making."
If you are interested in a career in costume and want to apply for full-training, Diane recommends doing your research on what's out there: "Think about what your passion is. Have you tried making costumes but don’t have the confidence to do it professionally? Or are you an organiser, enjoying being in the thick of the production, finding and fitting costumes on the actors and then organising the costumes and all the people involved? Always look at the course content carefully – not only what is taught, but also how long is spent on each skill, and you should get an accurate view of the course you are looking at."
Florence agrees, and also recommends working out the practicalities of taking on full-time training: "one of the biggest challenges for me in taking on the postgraduate course was that it was full-time study. This really limited the ability to work alongside - there just isn't time! I was very grateful that I had saved a little beforehand but would highly recommend working in your holidays. It’s great to have the extra funds to support your studies as well as it being a great use of your time to start building your professional experience. Even a few days of dressing or helping with costume alterations, it all adds up."
"Doing some voluntary work at a theatre is a very good way to observe people in their work", Diane adds. "This might nudge you towards your professional aims and can also be very helpful for networking".
Admission to the course is based on an interview, and all eligible applicants with the relevant entry requirements will be interviewed. Diane recommends: "to be accepted you need to prove a propensity to the work and a passion for theatre in general. Get a good portfolio together and preferably bring along an item that you have made – however big or small. This will give the interview more depth".
"I think that one of the things that helped my application was just being honest and genuinely believing that the course was right for me", Florence recalls. "It’s the only course that offers such hands-on experience and practical teaching. You've got to be ready to work hard, and be prepared for it to become your second home, but everyone is in it together so with a positive attitude and drive to put on great theatre this course set me up for a fantastic start on my costume journey".
For more detailed information on the Postgraduate Diploma in Theatre Costume, including how to apply, visit the relevant pages of the RADA website.