A wardrobe in the park…

Thérèse Denis has been costume and wardobe supervisor at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre since 2012.

How did you get into theatre?

I was studying arts and crafts at an academy in Quebec, when a semi-professional theatre group commissioned me to make their costumes. It was for a production of Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs and from then I was hooked. Sewing is in my blood; my family are seamstresses, my sister (one of eight) does haute couture and taught me the basics, starting with unpicking mistakes. I remember watching her making ball gowns and would take her cuttings from the sewing room floor and copy her dresses for my Cindy doll. There was so much glamorous fabric, sequins and lamé. She would let me organise her button and tread drawers. The theatre was a way for me to use my creativity as I am not a performer. I like to think I perform in the dark, and I am happy with that: to be in the background and be part of the team that makes the show the best it can be.

What does the job of wardrobe and costume supervisor involve?

I work very closely with the production designer’s concept and facilitate things to make that vision happen. That’s everything from scouring charity shops (Chester has some gems!) and buying things online to measuring the actors and choosing the fabrics with the designer. I try to create something as close to the designer’s original ideas as possible, which often means dying fabric, breaking it down – dirtying it, ageing it – so it doesn’t look brand new on stage. I have a very organic approach (laughs!) to cutting and sewing: often I don’t make paper patterns, I like to drape fabric on dummies and see what it looks like before I use scissors. I am surrounded by an incredible team: Maria is my right arm! Karen is super-fast – the queen of zippers! Ruth cuts with the most precision, plus we have a very enthusiastic team of volunteers and work experience students.

What is it like working at an open-air theatre?

I have been part of Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre since 2012. The outdoors brings a completely different set of challenges to indoor productions. Of course, the weather: getting costumes dry can be a challenge – and the mud! But, on sunny days we can dry clothes outside too. Behind the scenes we have very good laundry facilities, equipped with hot water – that’s a new arrival from 2017, it was essential to getting the blood out of the Julius Caesar costumes. But I love English summers at the open air theatre – it’s the best way to experience it. Outdoors every day in July and August – we see the best of the season. I always say ‘with a good pair of wellies anything is possible!’

What have been your career highlights?

I worked with AÏda Opera and got to travel the world. I had a staggering 52 cases of costumes – a company of 1,000 opened the second act. I was Head of Wardrobe at Cirque de Soleil, again I travelled all over the world. I also worked on some brilliant shows whilst part of the team at Theatr Clwyd.

Photo of the Masked Ball, Romeo and Juliet 2015