More than 30 students from the Baltimore Design School gathered just off the side of the stage at the Hippodrome Theatre on Wednesday night, huddled around actress Teri Hansen as she spoke about the importance of costuming in "The Sound Of Music," currently appearing at the downtown venue.
The group of freshmen, sophomores and juniors were learning about the wardrobe of Hansen's character, Elsa Schraeder, in the production.
"Pretty much the only person with any style is me," Hansen said, laughing, as she showed off a strapless purple tiered gown with an embroidered hip sash.
It was a replica of a design from the fashion house Lanvin, which the students learned was one of the three major designers of the period in which the musical takes place.
In addition to touring backstage and meeting with cast and crew, the students watched a live performance. They ultimately will make their own costumes that are historically accurate to that period, which will be presented this spring to the board of the Hippodrome Foundation.
The foundation is administering a $5,000 grant awarded by the New York City-based Broadway League that gives the students first-hand access to the production.
"This really exposes the students to experts in the field who can talk … about what they do and why certain components of costuming is important," said Olive Waxter, executive director of the Hippodrome Foundation. "We're going to teach them about historic timing and really focus on elements of the costumes that reflect the period and the work."
The night of the tour, the students seemed to absorb every fact Hansen provided.
Sophomore Diamon Harrison asked about the importance of a hatpin and how many seamstresses were needed to outfit the cast.
Hansen answered the question and also explained that the production's wardrobe featured replica garments — like the purple gown — and authentic pieces such as the vintage nun's habits and the Nazi uniforms, which the production's head costume designer, Jane Greenwood, located in Germany.
Later, Harrison, 15, said she would like to pursue a career in costume design in addition to working as a fashion designer.
"I liked learning about the history of design," she said. "I like learning how the style came about."
Although the activity was aimed to teach students about historical accuracy in costume design, it was more than academic.
"This is a golden opportunity for our students to be able to see costume design and experience the hours of backstage production necessary to put on this performance," said Melissa Patrylo, the Baltimore Design School's principal. "There is so much you can learn from a book or instructor, but for them to come here puts a reality check on everything that they've learned in the classroom."
For Demaris Fisher, a 15-year-old sophomore, interacting with inner workings of the production was her favorite part of the experience.
"You have to be able to be able to move quickly within the design world and have fun," Fisher said after touring the "quick room" area, where actors change wardrobe in seconds to appear on stage for the next scene.
Fisher had never been to the Hippodrome before Wednesday's performance. After the experience, she said she intends to work as a costume designer.
Although Janel Stamper, 16, had seen "The Color Purple" and "Romeo and Juliet" onstage, the night still opened her eyes.
"I loved learning about Coco Chanel and the designers of that time," the sophomore said. "I want to design dresses — dresses like how they used to do it."
The grant comes at an opportune time for the students as theater and fashion are amid a boom in popular culture.
Live television theater performances of "Peter Pan," "The Sound of Music" and most recently "The Wiz" have exposed a new audience to the craft. And television shows such as "Project Runway" and "America's Next Top Model" have made concepts such as fashion week and capsule collections a part of everyday conversation.
"These shows piqued their interest," said Bresean Jenkins, fashion director and teacher at the school. "Most students come here expecting to do what they see on television. Students come here taking sewing lessons that their parents have paid for."
This program is the next step in the evolution of the students.
"These types of experiences from professionals takes it from conception to actualization," Jenkins said.
Kenyetta Riddick's eyes widened when she spoke about her love of the costuming on "The Wiz," which aired live on NBC this month. She said she loved the "beautiful, intricate details" of the wardrobes.
"Each one was different," she said, cradling a sketchbook filled with her designs.
The 15-year-old sophomore loved watching "The Wiz" but also appreciated the firsthand exposure she received about the creativity and history involved in costume design for "The Sound of Music."
"Moving back and forth backstage, you get to realize how important everything is," she said.
With exposure to programs like this, Riddick thinks that she'll be better prepared for the rigors of the industry.
"You can start your career at a very early age as long as you put the effort toward it," she said.