December 12, 2019

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A stitch in time

With six actors playing 23 characters, The Wedding Party's costume designer is on pins and needles

A wedding is a joyous ceremony where two people are united in the bonds of holy matrimony… and where two families are thrown together, whether they like it or not.

Theatre preview

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The Wedding Party
Written by Kristen Thomson, directed by Ann Hodges
● Prairie Theatre Exchange
● Nov. 20 to Dec. 8
● Tickets $27-$50 at pte.mb.ca and 204-942-5483

Most of us have our own tales of weddings and receptions gone wrong, but Kristen Thomson’s play The Wedding Party — opening at Prairie Theatre Exchange on Thursday, Nov. 21 — might just take the cake for best/worst reception ever.

The play was originally created specifically for the opening of Toronto’s Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre in 2017 in celebration of its new theatre space. The company also wanted to market the space as a potential venue for — wait for it — wedding receptions.

The Manitoba première of this comedy of manners is set at a wedding reception, but we never see the bride or groom. Instead we meet their families — who hail from very different socioeconomic backgrounds — as they come together for the first time.

Actor Jasmine Chen and dresser Laurie Carpenter backstage during production of The Wedding Party at Prairie Theatre Exchange. (Leif Norman photo)

Actor Jasmine Chen and dresser Laurie Carpenter backstage during production of The Wedding Party at Prairie Theatre Exchange. (Leif Norman photo)

"At a wedding the bride and groom are in love but there’s no guarantee that the families are going to get along," says director Ann Hodges. "It’s kind of explosive what happens between the two families in the play."

Thomson is well-known for her use of improvisation in creating characters for her plays, which makes for some fantastically well-developed characters and some serious directorial challenges.

"In the first production, stage directions didn’t really exist," says director Ann Hodges. "When I read the script for the first time, I had no idea what was happening, because the script doesn’t say things like entrances and exits. They’re a helpful thing to have when there are six actors playing 23 different characters."

And a play with 23 characters isn’t just a directorial challenge, it’s also a costume designer’s dream (or worst nightmare, depending on who you ask).

Costume designer Christine Reimer (right) and Brenda McLean, PTE's head of wardrobe. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Costume designer Christine Reimer (right) and Brenda McLean, PTE's head of wardrobe. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

For this production, Hodges asked longtime collaborator and friend Christine Reimer to take on the gargantuan task.

"The play requires multiple costumes for each actor," says Reimer, who is based in Vancouver, "and numerous pieces that require alterations to make sure they can be taken on and off in a matter of seconds."

"Normally on a show you might have a few quick changes," she continues. "You might have to think about two or three costumes that you have to alter, but for this show I had to think about that for every single costume."

The casting breakdown of the show is genderless and ageless, meaning the actors all play a variety of ages and genders (and in one instance, even a dog). The actors even take turns playing the same character, creating another costume conundrum.

Designer Reimer had to create multiple versions of the same costume for different actors. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Designer Reimer had to create multiple versions of the same costume for different actors. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

"All the performers play a server as well as a wedding videographer," says Reimer. "But the actors are many different sizes, so…"

Translation? Multiple quick-change-friendly versions of the same costume. It’s enough to strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned designer, but Reimer isn’t fazed.

"It’s been a good challenge," she says.

While discussing costumes with Reimer, Hodges takes out a carefully organized and colour-coded scene chart, with many boxes highlighted in pink.

"When we were planning the show and figuring out backstage personnel, I highlighted in pink any costume change that happens in less than a page," she says.

"It’s a lot of planning and logistics. There’s lots of people backstage now as running crew. The backstage ballet is almost crazier than the onstage." - Director Ann Hodges

A common adage in theatre is that one page of a script is equal to about one minute of stage time, which means that The Wedding Party is chock full of costume changes that happen in less than a minute.

"It’s a lot of planning and logistics," says Hodges. "There’s lots of people backstage now as running crew. The backstage ballet is almost crazier than the onstage."

The ultimate goal? Make it all look effortless.

"You kind of forget," Hodges says. "In the beginning you notice all the changes, but you start to become oblivious to it. You start to see these different characters and begin to forget that they are all played by the same person.

"It’s pretty miraculous."

Actors Nancy Sorel (from left), Todd Thomson and Luisa Jojic. (Leif Norman photo)

Actors Nancy Sorel (from left), Todd Thomson and Luisa Jojic. (Leif Norman photo)

The Wedding Party is a co-production between Prairie Theatre Exchange and Arts Club in Vancouver, which means the cast and creative team are equally split between Winnipeg and Vancouver artists.

While many of the artists involved are working together for the first time, it’s a reunion for Hodges and Reimer, who first met at the Vancouver Opera in 2001.

"I was hired as an assistant director in residence and Christine was the costume designer consultant," says Hodges.

"Like the Manitoba Opera, the Vancouver Opera rents costumes for a lot of the big shows and I would design the leads," continues Reimer. "I also designed set and costumes for the school touring shows."

"And I directed a lot of those," adds Hodges. "So, we’ve collaborated on a lot of shows! Just like in the play, there’s been a real marriage of these two communities… but unlike in the play, we all really get along.

"It’s been a riot."

Frances.Koncan@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @franceskoncan

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