LA Opera’s Costume Shop's newest assignment is their most meaningful yet: making masks.
Earlier this year, our illustrious team of artisans were putting the finishing touches on masks and elaborate costumes for Eurydice. Striking black animal masks shaped like cats and dogs were paired with sleek, laser-cut coats for characters that lurked in the shadows as Hades’ minions. And putting the costumes and masks together for this world-premiere production was no small feat.
Jeannique Prospere, LA Opera’s Assistant Costume Director, shared that costume staff immediately started researching, using information from sources like the CDC and LA Protects, to determine the best materials for masks for daily wear. They then created a pattern that could be distributed to stitchers at home (because everyone at LA Opera is practicing social distancing and following safer-at-home guidelines).
As masks are finished, they are packaged individually with care instructions and sent through the USPS to LA Opera staff and community groups.
Alex Babec, a seamster on the team said, “I’m responsible for historic menswear like the doublets for Nottingham and Sir Walter Raleigh from Roberto Devereux and the unusual costumes like the Stones and the Dead from Eurydice. Creating these masks is reminiscent of the assembly line set up we used to make all the elements for the leather coats worn by the Dead.”
In addition to the nineteen costume shop crew sewing the masks, there’s also our front-line team; four dedicated crew members, who collect, measure out and prepare fabric and materials for the take-home kits.
“Even though making masks isn’t as exciting as our usual costume work, I am happy for a way to use my skills to help. It’s also a good way to use my time since we’re all staying at home,” said seamster Clara Weidman.
The masks are made of soft, breathable cotton, which is most importantly, easy to wash at home. The first round of masks incorporated the Costume Shop’s existing stock of cotton and elastic. (Instead of lining a chorus member’s hoop skirt, this cotton fabric will be protecting thousands of people’s faces.)
“It is surreal to me that we are able to make this transition, from using fabric for entertainment purposes to using fabric in ways that will potentially save lives,” said Darya Shkipina, Senior Costume Assistant. “I am so proud of how quickly LA Opera was able to adapt and find ways to help its community.”
Echoing these sentiments, Production Assistant Valerie Spencer said “I have always found creative ways to support and contribute to my theater community. When it comes right down to it, we need each other. Likewise, I feel indebted to all the strong women in the arts, who have inspired me to remain persistent and brave while pursuing my dreams. Now more than ever, it's the time to entrust in my talents and tenacity. I feel like Rosie the Riveter 2.0! Time to get to work.”
And indeed, the team has gotten to work. The project has been such a success that they’re ramping up production, and sourcing more fabric to keep up with their own quick pace to ensure everyone can be (literally and figuratively) covered. Their goal is to create 1,500 masks every week—which is certainly a lot of protected faces.
The sentiments shared by our costume team do share a common thread. As Lark Arrowood, a Second Hand put it: “While I miss working on [historical costumes] and creating fascinating creatures-- as well as seeing all my co-workers!-- I am immensely grateful to be working on these masks. They have provided a much-needed sense of purpose and routine to the day, while also helping do good in scary times.”
So while we eagerly anticipate the day where these incredible artisans can get back to the work of crafting and creating stage magic—hand painting flowers on fabric, dyeing a coat the perfect shade, or creating angel wings—we are incredibly grateful for their efforts as they turn their artistic talents toward the good of our community.
We’re so proud of our colleagues in the Costume Shop for their dedication and determination—and we can’t wait to wear their latest masterpieces.
While our stages are temporarily dark, we have redirected our attention and care to community outreach through efforts like this exciting mask-making project. Support this project and the hundreds of artists and artisans impacted by recent production cancellations by making a gift to the LA Opera Relief Fund.