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Costume drama consumes Mansfield Park designer

Collecting the 18th-century clothes for a cast of 20 poses challenges for a USC senior with sights set on the big stage

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A drama adapted from the Jane Austen novel Mansfield Park is a costume designer’s dream (or nightmare, depending on the designer’s point of view). The play, which has a cast of 20, most of whom change clothes with some regularity, runs through Oct. 11 at Bing Theatre.

Making things even more interesting, the period piece takes place over the course of 13 years — from 1795 to 1808. Oh, and there’s an onstage wedding as well.

None of this has fazed senior Megan Guthrie-Wedemeyer, the production’s costume designer. This is the fifth USC show that Guthrie-Wedemeyer, a costume design major at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, has on her resume. She hopes to work in either the film or theater industry and has spent the last two summers in internships to hone her professional skills.

Arts and crafts

Two years ago, she was a crafts artisan at Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, dyeing and distressing fabric and repairing shoes. Last summer, she was a costume assistant and dresser for Spamalot at the Hollywood Bowl.

She started doing research on Mansfield Park in July, before anyone was cast. Once casting decisions were made, the school’s costume shop became her daily home, including weekends. She made dozens of trips to the cavernous costume storage room in the basement of the Physical Education Building, pulling garments. Many of the pieces she’s using came from stock, but still required alterations or different embellishments.

Guthrie-Wedemeyer designed several costumes from scratch, including a girl’s Empire waist dress, a woman’s black lace bodice lined in silk and a vest, shirt, breeches and coat for Sir Thomas, the play’s patriarch.

That outfit, sewn first in muslin and then in the final fabrics, was built by Charlotte Stratton, a costume shop designer.

“We use fabrics and silhouettes of the time,” said Guthrie-Wedemeyer, who put together inspiration boards and detailed sketches early in her process.

Forty-eight hours before opening night, she helped the show’s wardrobe supervisor, Holly Willaume, and crew members carry the contents of two overflowing racks of costumes onto empty racks to roll over to the Bing.

As the racks filled, Willaume cast a worried look at the darkening sky.

“Those look like storm clouds,” she proclaimed.

The dressers picked up the pace, rolling faster down the sidewalk as it started to sprinkle. Right at the side door of the Bing, the heavens opened. A rack tipped. But it was a fleeting crisis, and Guthrie-Wedemeyer’s costumes that she had planned, chosen and cossetted for months made it inside with only a smattering of raindrops, ready to create the illusion of another time and place.

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Costume drama consumes Mansfield Park designer

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