After being shuttered for more than a year, the Shop is resuming operations with safety a priority.
Just a few weeks ago, the LA Opera Costume Shop sat mostly empty, a wall calendar near the entrance still reading “March 2020,” marking the last time our costume makers worked together in the space before the coronavirus forced its closure.
The Shop, located downtown near Interstate 10 and Alameda Avenue, is now abuzz with activity. There are certainly signs the pandemic is still a part of life—arrows on the floor direct the one-way flow of foot traffic, plastic barriers separate workstations, blue COVID compliance officer vests hang alongside costumes for upcoming operas—but sewing machines are whirring, scissors are snipping, and the Costume Shop is most definitely back in action.
“It feels really good to be here again. This is like home,” said Assistant Cutter/Draper Gloria Guerrero on a recent morning while she worked on the second floor of the Shop, assigning supernumerary costumes for the 2021-22 season opening production of Il Trovatore. “It’s nice to have the [COVID safety] protocols in place. It helps a lot with feeling good about being back.” Gloria first worked with LAO as an intern while she was a student at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and joined the Costume Shop as an employee in 2016.
Cutter/Draper Ademir Serrano, also a Shop employee since 2016, echoed this sentiment as he measured one of Count di Luna’s coats for Il Trovatore. “It felt so good and also so different to return. There’s this feeling of safety because the company has done a lot.” That includes modifications to the layout of the Shop to maintain social distancing, weekly COVID testing, daily health screenings, a dedicated onsite COVID compliance officer each day, and extensive protocols related to all aspects of the Shop’s operations.
Ademir says that upon finally being reunited with his friends from the Shop, it was difficult not being able to hug them. But he was happy to settle for smiles and waves and the opportunity to again be working side by side (at a minimum distance of six feet, of course).
The Shop began resuming costume operations in mid-April, when approximately a dozen employees returned (up until that point, only a few employees had been working at the Shop part-time during the closure, to help keep the inventory and facility clean and maintained). Over the next few weeks, additional employees rejoined the Shop in phases, each receiving COVID safety training before starting their work.
Motioning to the assortment of PPE, sanitizer, and other COVID-related items around him, Costume Shop Administrative Assistant John Musselman said it’s all about getting people back to work responsibly. John checks in employees as they arrive to work at the Shop each day—he confirms they’ve completed the required health screening questionnaire and are properly masked, he takes their temperature, and logs their arrival. A Costume Shop employee for 17 years, John said he’s not surprised how well the team has adapted to the new public health-related protocols and rules.
“We’ve always dealt with structure and patterns here in the Shop,” John said. “These are just different versions of those.”