In a two-man play that encompasses 21 characters, there’s not much time for switching between personalities. Especially because one of the actors, Greg Watanabe, covers 20 characters.
Where the region’s big theaters might have entire staffs of seamstresses bustling and a costume collection full of period pieces, Galioto’s work for this play, “How I Got That Story” at Mo’olelo, is done in her living room and dining room. She has a $500 budget to dress Watanabe in a nun’s habit and an orange monk costume, as well as a number of ranks’ worth of military clothes.
And because of those character changes, costume designer Jeannie Galioto has to make several of the pieces “quick-rig” so that Watanabe can quickly and easily take them off and on “in literally 2 seconds,” she said.
That includes the gown he wears to portray the prostitute that the naïve reporter gets to know. Working in her living room last month, Galioto marked the opening with a piece of Velcro.
She attached padding to give the costume a womanly shape.
Galioto is a key part of the small creative team making this fictional “Ambo Land” a believable place, and the characters that navigate it realistic and authentic. We’ve been following that team at Mo’olelo in the run-up to this play, learning about the pursuit of the right sounds, voices and character motivations that must be in place before the curtain rises.
And now, costumes. When we visited Galioto’s home a few weeks ago to catch her work in progress, her dining room table was strewn with craft supplies and her living room draped in fabrics. A couple packets of black fake hair awaited being made into two black braids for Watanabe’s portrayal of Madame Ing, a controlling government leader.
“There’s quite an array of bizarre pieces in my house right now,” she said.
As Galioto mulled Watanabe’s various military outfits, she had to ask: What exactly is a flak jacket? Would the soldier change his boots to go into the bar?
“You don’t want to offend any of the vets,” she said. “One of your greatest fears as a costume designer, you don’t want to get it wrong.”
Galioto knew buying real combat helmets would break the bank: Vintage ones are thousands of dollars each, she said. So she ordered era-appropriate motorcycle helmets, to sand down and spray-paint green.
Galioto was part of Mo’olelo’s renowned “greening” initiative that encouraged being thoughtful about the environment when choosing materials for theater. But in this case, nothing sticks to the helmets except for “Rust-oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover 2X” in a shade of army green.
“God only knows how toxic that is,” she said. Luckily, she said, she still has a respirator from her old job at the La Jolla Playhouse that allows a painter to breathe without inhaling toxic fumes.
When Galioto takes on a new project, she makes a giant list of all of the things she’ll need and carries it around in her purse. She’ll often make a loop of the Sports Arena neighborhood, hitting her favorite thrift stores.
“I have $500 to make it happen,” she said a couple of weeks ago. “Right now I think I have $10 left. So we better hope nothing happens.”
As she counts pennies and buys woven sandals at the dollar store, she also thinks of all of the things she could borrow from shops she either works in now or used to: the University of San Diego, San Diego Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse. “I call in all my favors, as well,” she said.
Galioto said she loves hitting the library and meeting people who lived through the situations she’s trying to design costumes for. In Minneapolis, she became known for Renaissance costumes, but she said working in different eras and researching period costumes is one of the best parts of her job.
“I now know more about the Vietnam War than I ever knew,” she said.
I checked in with Galioto today to see how the costumes she’d envisioned actually looked in the tech rehearsals and preview performances. One of the first things to figure out was how to make the flip-flops both actors wear have enough traction. Finally, the set designer tried spray mount, the glue used to affix paper to presentation boards. Even though the actors wound up picking up dust and dirt from the floor, the shoes were finally sticky enough to keep them from slipping.
And that dress that the Li character, the prostitute, wears? That’s posed a problem, too. Galioto detailed the evolution of quick-rigging that piece:
I started with pieces of Velcro so he could get it off and on quickly but the actor was having problems getting the Velcro to line up. Then I ripped all Velcro off and sewed on snaps. The actor rips the dress off so quickly, it started to rip the satin.
So, on Monday I ripped the snaps off and sewed in strips of fabric to re-enforce the dress fabric and sewed the snaps back on, on top of the fabric. I chose a stronger weave of fabric and I used fabric glue to cover the thread to make it stronger. We also had to comprise because when we see this character of Li again, there was not enough time to put the dress back on so now there is a robe for this scene.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that this dress holds up for the run because of being ripped off every show! It looks really fantastic in the show and when you see Greg in silhouette in the dress he has a female form because of the padding I added.
You can follow our discovery of the elements needed to get a play from beginning to curtain in our Arts: Embedded series.
“How I Got That Story” opens tomorrow night and runs through March 18. Stay tuned for our coming dispatches.
Kelly Bennett writes about arts, ideas and nonprofits for voiceofsandiego.org. Sam Hodgson is a freelance photojournalist and contributor to VOSD. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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