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Fewer fittings, more filming: Baltimore theater costume designers adapt to a season shadowed by coronavirus

Kitt Crescenzo, resident designer poses at Stillpointe Theatre.
Kitt Crescenzo, resident designer poses at Stillpointe Theatre. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Traditionally, Kitt Crescenzo’s role as a costume designer has been based on a series of in-person discussions with directors, meetings with staff and fittings with actors in an attempt to convey the perfect feel of a production’s character through the clothes that are worn on stage.

COVID-19 is significantly altering the way that Crescenzo and others who create costumes do their jobs for the foreseeable future.

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“It creates a whole series of new parameters,” she said. “For what we do as designers, our particular field is so intimate that I think for us there is really a huge barrier to do our job to the best of our abilities because you can’t be in anyone’s personal space.”

Crescenzo is a Fells Point-based costume designer who works with a half dozen theaters in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. How she does her job now might be one of the hardest adjustment for those in the theater field as a result of the social distancing required by the coronavirus.

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“I don’t know if people will be as comfortable with multiple fittings,” Crescenzo explained. “I’m going to have to do a lot more editing [down of clothes]. Fittings can’t be as much of a free-for-all or collaborative. That will be a big change. For designers, there will be a challenge. I don’t know if it will be for the better of the worse.”

Crescenzo said that work among regional and local theaters has essentially come to halt since March as a result of COVID-19.

The first production she’s been booked to work is in October at Stillpointe Theatre for “Vanishing Point,” a three-person comedy-mystery about the disappearances of famous women: Amelia Earhart, Aimee Semple McPherson and Agatha Christie.

The productionwill require period pieces from the 1920s to better define the characters. With COVID, the costume designer will reduce the number of fittings from five or six per actor per garment to about two.

“If you are someone who loves styling and trying a million things, that will be a lot harder,” she said, adding that she plans to ask each actor to have someone in their home measure them to help her perfect the fit through video. “The collaborative nature of costuming will be harder. You won’t be able to be around people closely for as long a period of time.”

Fittings — for the most part — will be virtual. And when there will be a need for final fittings, the number of people in attendance will be severely decreased to thwart potential infections. All people present will be required to wear face masks.

“Everyone will have to be gloved and masked,” Crescenzo said.

Ben Kress, an associate costumer at Center Stage until May, said that employees there worked on staggered schedules to help with social distancing. He worked remotely on days he didn’t have to come into work at the Mount Vernon-based theater.

Kress moved to Chicago in June to pursue his MFA from Northwestern University. He still has many friends who work in the theater in Baltimore.

“I feel guilty watching my friends [in theater] struggle,” he said.

Although Kress made the decision to go back to school before the pandemic started, he said it’s comforting knowing now what he will be doing for the next three years.

“There is so much uncertainty right now,” he said.

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Kitt Crescenzo, resident designer holds some of her handmade masks at Stillpointe Theatre.
Kitt Crescenzo, resident designer holds some of her handmade masks at Stillpointe Theatre. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Masking up could be a costume trend

The remainder of 2020 will be dedicated to filmed productions where virtual tickets will be sold for performances, according to Ryan Haase, the creative director for Stillpointe Theatre, which is known for producing shows in locations throughout the city.

“The focus this season is filming. Because of that, attention to detail will be more important,” Haase said. “Attention to details will be huge for costumers. There won’t be big shows. Costumers will have to produce a lot less. People are picking shows with less people for social distancing.”

He added: “I think that the costumer’s role is much more important this time around because they have to take [people’s] health into account.”

Haase also predicts that costumers will create looks where masks are incorporated into their wardrobe.

“I have a feeling there will be a huge surge in shows that have masks built into it. They will have to literally design around the pandemic,” he said.

Crescenzo looks forward to the challenge.

“It’s a fun challenge,” she said. “And a fun bit of research to find. Face coverings have relevance through the history of costume and dress. There’s room to make it work in the era of fashion. Absolutely.”

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