Come As You’re NOT: The Making of Who’s Who? (Part 3)

Costuming a costume party should be easy, right? You can dress up as anything you want. Raid a Spirit Halloween store and let your imagination run wild. Well, Master Mystery Productions seldom likes to make it easy on ourselves. We love the challenge of trying to figure out the best costume for a character and plan everything down to the texture on the socks. But it gets a little trickier when you have a blank slate. No period setting. No fantasy characters. So how do you costume actors for a costume party when the brief is “Anything you want!”? Step into our costume boutique and we tell you how.

COME AS YOU’RE NOT: THE MAKING OF WHO’S WHO? (PART 3)

We started this show with the idea of holding a fun and festive costume party. Everyone in costume. Actors, staff, and patrons. And at a costume party, people can show up as whatever they want. Bigfoot. Astronaut. Sherlock Holmes. Elvis. You name it! And that’s part of the fun. But how do you costume your actors to make them stand out in a room full of costumes? After all, we want to be sure our audience looks at the right people. Luckily, Founder’s Award champion for the 2020 season and genius Costume Designer Beth Sparks-Jacques was raring to go and stacked with brilliant ideas.

Pages from our new Costume Archive book, detailing all of the MMP costumes currently in the collection.

Which leads us to the brief of “costume+”. We still wanted to maintain the vibe of normal people (Well, as normal as our characters could ever hope to be) attending a costume party. We weren’t looking for Hollywood prosthetic makeups or completely period accurate tailoring or expensive, high drama effects. That just wouldn’t fit the aesthetic of the show, which is funny, carefree, and silly. The show never takes itself too seriously, so why should the costumes? And we wanted to retain this aura of the artisan or handmade about the show. For many people, they’ll make costumes at home for parties or Halloween, making pieces or combining different items from their closets to get the look they want And we wanted to retain that vibe for Who’s Who? So we searched the MMP Costume Archive, sourced pieces online, bought clothes from big box stores, raided actor closets, and made beautiful, custom finishes, details, and pieces to curate a wardrobe that at once feels inspired by the original muse for the costume, humble enough to read as a homemade costume, yet special enough to be a stage piece. And our amazing Costume Crew pulled it off. Throughout the show’s wardrobe, there’s a gorgeous, handmade, artisanal flair that makes each piece an independent work of art.

Custom patches on the hat for Mr. Bubble, dressed as the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

We first wanted our characters to dress as popular figures or characters; We even asked our cast what they wanted to dress as. So you’ll see fairy tale figures, book characters, and figures from other time periods. Makeup design–helmed by superstars Olivia Holm and Leslie Blake–is more akin to carnival face painting for certain characters to maintain a sense of levity and DIY spirit. But we wanted to think of details that push our costumes further. It wasn’t enough to just wear a standard costume out of a bag; We wanted something a little more special. Homemade costumes with a little extra pizazz or oomph. Think of red glitter nails and red glittery lips to go with our ruby slippers for Dorothy. Or custom embroidery on a Red Riding Hood. Or custom fabric patches on a Scarecrow’s denim overalls and burlap hat. Or butterflies soaring off Marie Antoinette’s wig. These little details “plus” the costumes, taking them from a simple concept into a more detailed and complex finished product. The details make the costumes special and help us stand out without pushing us out of the realm of a traditional costume party look.

Creating the patches for the Scarecrow overalls. Created by Costume Crew Member Margit Stallings.
Embroidery on hood for Little Red Riding Hood. Custom made by Costume Designer Beth Sparks-Jacques.

But there was another side of this brief to take our costumes over the finish line. The director asked for our costumes to have a little quirk to them, “something off” that draws interest to the characters and make you laugh or scratch your head. It supports this notion of the characters going in costume as an attempt to blend in…but not-so-secretly having ulterior motives for being at the bookstore. What could be wackier than Marie Antoinette showing up in a ski mask for a robbery? Or a Wall Street businessman in a full suit also dressed as Little Red Riding Hood wearing a beautifully-made embroidered hood courtesy of Costume Designer Beth Sparks-Jacques and carrying a briefcase full of contracts for Granny. Or the Big Bad Wolf carrying a Lisa Frank and Hello Kitty-inspired pink notebook and fluffy pink pen. Contrast creates interest. Lots of little quirks were added to these costumes to inject character and story into the looks, helping audiences get a grasp of the loony thieves attempting to infiltrate this party. The looks are over-the-top, wild, and hilarious. And each costume has a layer of extra meaning that is only revealed when you watch the show. After all, no one is who they seem to be in Who’s Who?

Costume Designer Beth Sparks-Jacques hand sews the custom “straw” the cast created from felt on the Scarecrow costume for Mr. Bubble.

The big key to the costumes for Who’s Who? is to have fun. We didn’t want super serious characters. We wanted color and whimsy and sparkle. We really didn’t set limits on our imaginations. The cast of Who’s Who? was extraordinarily hands-on with the designs, executions, and finishing of their AND their castmate’s costumes, so much so that it felt like a truly family effort to get everyone dressed to the nines for our show. Even some beloved MMP pieces make it into this production, so be sure to watch the show to see how we reimagined some classic MMP couture to fit this madcap mystery.

Always make sure your ski mask coordinates with your court gown and safecracking tool belt.

We’ve got our costumes, and we hope you have yours ready too! Because our costume party caper is right around the corner. Let’s have fun together as Master Mystery Productions brings back live shows with a hilarious, high-energy run of Who’s Who?. The show opens November 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Red Rock Books in Ridgecrest with subsequent performances November 6, November 12, and November 13, 2021. Tickets are on sale now at Red Rock Books. We’ll see you there!

–Master Mystery Productions

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