Making Shakespearean costumes at the Pop-up Globe

The three witches of Macbeth on stage at the Pop-up Globe in Auckland. Image supplied.

The Pop-up Globe returned to Auckland late last year for its third summer season and has been delighting audiences with its brilliant re-creation of a Jacobean theatre and exciting Shakespearean productions. Since it was first launched as a one-off concept to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in February 2016, the Pop-up Globe has hosted 300,000 people in its stunning theatre that is a replica of Shakespeare’s second Globe Theatre in the UK. The company has also toured to Melbourne last year and have been delighted by the enthusiastic response of Australian and New Zealand audiences to their authentic and spellbinding shows.

I was invited behind the scenes to find out how the costumes are made for their latest production of Macbeth which opened in Auckland last week and was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the Globe and the wardrobe department by Head of Wardrobe, Chantelle Gerrard. It’s a massive job to design, create and finish with exacting details the hundreds of costumes needed each season at the Pop-up Globe, not to mention the myriad of factors like weather (as the theatre’s roof is partly open to the elements), budget, durability, movement, tight time frames and long seasons which make each season a demanding one.

Gerrard designed the costumes for each character in Macbeth keeping in mind director Tom Mallaburn’s vision and the world that the characters inhabit. She undertook a great deal of research to make sure her costumes fit into Shakespeare’s 400 year old world and would also stand up to the demands of the vigorous season. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s darker tragedies and there is a fair amount of blood spilt before the curtain call which means the costumes also have to be easily washable and able to withstand the numerous fight scenes.

Each garment is an authentic re-creation of Jacobean clothing which are made using period techniques so that they look and feel like the original garments would have. Each item is usually sewn by machine with the exterior handfinished with braids and trims to give them the right look. Gerrard’s wardrobe team varies from 12 – 20 trained costumers who sew and finish the garments in the workroom that is on-site at the Ellerslie Events Centre. It’s a very busy job with Macbeth’s entire collection of costumes constructed for the season in just three weeks.

Fight scene in Macbeth at the Pop-up Globe.

The tight time frame for creating each show’s costumes means the fabrics must be sourced locally with Gerrard utilising every fabric retailer and wholesaler in Auckland to collect the 900 metres of linen and other fabrics required to create the garments. Natural fabrics are used for as many garments as possible as they give an authentic look and are breathable for the actors to wear on stage each day. A dressing team of five helps the actors get ready for each show and assist with the quick changes during the performances.

Industrial washing machines backstage process the three – four loads of washing that are generated by each performance with the fake blood having to be removed before it dries completely so that the costumes aren’t ruined. The wardrobe team also have the job of starching the collars and cuffs with cornstarch as they would have done 400 years ago, as well as making sure all the costumes are maintained and repaired as required.

Gerrard has a very busy job each season but she wouldn’t have it any other way and enjoys the excitement that comes with each new production. She has been involved with the Pop-up Globe since its first season having previously worked in film and theatre making costumes for the likes of Game of Thrones, The Martian, Mary Stuart and Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Billy Elliot. Gerrard was first fascinated by clothing as a child and was self-taught at sewing growing up before studying spatial design at AUT. Her love of history led her to specialise in period costumes and she loves leading her talented wardrobe team who all have different specialist skills.

After an intriguing tour backstage and seeing first hand how much work and attention to detail goes into each costume, it was fascinating to watch the actors take to the stage for the evening’s performance of Macbeth. You’re never more than a few metres from the stage in the Pop-up Globe so Gerrard’s and the wardrobe team’s hard work is easily appreciated as the action takes place. The production of Macbeth was captivating and I left wanting to catch each one of the company’s shows this season. The Pop-up Globe’s performances of Shakespeare are truly not to be missed and if you want to catch a show you had best be quick as tickets are selling out fast for the season which ends in early April.

Amanda Billing as Lady Macbeth at the Pop-up Globe.

Images supplied.