The opening performance of “The Little Mermaid” is a month away, but the costume makers say it’s crunch time.
Inside Prospect Park Auditorium, Moline, earlier this week, Quad-City Music Guild volunteers were in a flurry of sewing machines, pins and needles and sorting some of the 107 total original pieces required to put on “The Little Mermaid,” which opens June 9.
At one point, they were fiddling with the large purple tentacles, filled with plastic grocery bags, for that evil Ursula octopus character.
“We’re trying to figure out how she’s going to move across the stage, and that’s going to take some choreographing,” Cathy Marsoun, the Music Guild’s board president, said. “There’s always something crazy going on here.”
That goes especially for this production, which has offered an extra challenge for Angela Stark, the lead costumer. She’s been planning since November.
“It’s over the top,” said Stark, who started helping out with the Music Guild about 15 years ago. “You have to make a lot of things from scratch when you’re dealing with seagulls and mermaid tails.”
To keep track of the “organized chaos,” she has a binder, which she calls the “bible,” full of costume sizes and measurements for each of the 35 cast members and their, on average, three dress changes.
“We have lots of lists,” she said. “It’s a little overwhelming. I didn’t know how immense of a job it was going to be when we started.”
Stark and others at the Music Guild, now in its 69th season, were up to the challenge in part thanks to the theater group’s extensive on-site costume shop, which houses more than 20,000 items stored from more than 40 years of shows.
“There’s a lot of repurposing things that were already here, like creating jellyfish out of curtains we had,” Stark said, adding that typical productions have a budget of $1,000 to $2,000. “It’s a labor love.”
‘Full of treasures’
Walking through the costume shop that she has looked after for 10 years, Marsoun said it’s “a little bit of a madhouse.”
“People keep asking where we’re going to put 107 new pieces after the show,” she said. “I’m not sure what the answer is.”
She oversaw the shop’s move four years ago from the former Rock Island Argus newspaper offices to its current home in a room attached to the auditorium, which was part of a $300,000 renovation.
“We started making our own costumes because renting them was becoming expensive and a hassle,” said Marsoun, who joined her first performance with Music Guild when she was 16 more than 40 years ago. “We wouldn’t get exactly what we wanted, and it would be last minute.”
To offset the expenses of making costumes, the Music Guild began renting items to community theaters and schools.
So far this year, the Music Guild has rented costumes to 18 high schools, including some in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Marsoun said. The costume shop is open to the public on Wednesdays and one Saturday of the month.
“When schools do shows, it usually falls on some poor teacher or some poor parent,” she said. “This really has become a resource for them.”
Marsoun said the Music Guild’s costume shop is likely the largest in the Quad-City area.
“We’re one of the only ones left,” she said. “It’s certainly full of treasures.”
It’s also “one of the most amazing places in the whole of the Quad-Cities,” said Jaci Weigandt, who has been involved in several Music Guild performances.
“There are rows and rows of costumes from all different periods and shows, like going back in time,” she said. “When things are returned, I’ll look at them and say, ‘Oh, I’d like to wear that in something one day.'"
Costumes make the show
It’s a hectic season for Marsoun and the team of costume makers, who work nightly at Prospect Park Auditorium while actors rehearse and other volunteers make sets and props.
“There are times where we’re running far behind, and it seems like it might not get done,” Marsoun said. “But it always gets done one way or another.”
They get done because costumes are important to telling the story.
“That’s what makes the show is when you can get into character,” she said. “It’s amazing the difference it makes when we change from street clothes to costumes. It brings it up to a whole other level.”
All of the work will be worth it on opening day.
“It's nice when you get oohs and awws from certain things," she said. "You get reactions from the audience, and you know it’s because of the costuming."