BRUNSWICK – It’s about 95 degrees in a dusty storage room in the Fort Andross mill building, as I thumb my way through piles of paper in cardboard boxes.

Every once in a while, I pick a new box off the shelf — some are heavy and I need help — and look through that one.

I thought that by shadowing Jacob Freund, costume rental manager for Maine State Music Theatre, I would be doing something cushy like fastening feathers to elaborate women’s hats, or perhaps organizing gowns by the colors of their sequins.

But in the theater, folks do really live by “the show must go on.” So Freund and I were searching for old costume patterns for the classic musical “Oklahoma!” so that the Yarmouth High School production of the play could go on.

MSMT is renting the costumes to Yarmouth High, but we needed to find the patterns so the high school can have some additional costumes made that aren’t in the music theater’s collection.

We found folders full of patterns for other shows — “The Merry Widow,” “La Boheme” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” among others — but no “Oklahoma!”

“I’ve got some patterns here for 1873 bustle dresses, but that won’t work, we need prairie,” Freund said. “I guess the closest we’ve got are some patterns here for styles of 1893. It’s a shame when patterns get lost, it’s not like you can go to Jo-Ann Fabrics and buy new ones for this stuff.”

Maine State Music Theatre has been in the costume business for about two years, acquiring the costumes for about 80 shows from a theater in Daytona, Fla. So a lot of Freund’s job is organizing these acquisitions, including all the costume patterns that were supposed to come with the collection.

Freund, who grew up in Freeport, said he took this job because he’s always been drawn to the theater. Before this job, he worked in the men’s wardrobe department for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The costume rental business’s main space, on a lower floor in the Fort Andross mill, looks how I imagine back stage at a Broadway show would look. There, costumes are hanging on racks, grouped by show, with hats or accessories on shelves above. The business rents to theaters of all kinds — high school, community, professional — all over the country. So when Freund gets an order from someone, he goes to the racks to find out what kind of shape the costumes are in.

Sometimes he has to mend a little, sometimes new pieces have to be made.

I helped Freund fit some costumes from the show “White Christmas” onto some dress forms, to be photographed. The costumes are being rented to a professional theater in Philadelphia, so the folks putting on the show want to see what they’ll be getting. The show is about two entertainers who meet in the Army during World War II, and go on to show-biz fame. The 1954 film version starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and features Crosby singing the title song.

To take the photos, Freund and I were following an old but very specific costume list — called a costume plot — that describes every outfit for every character in great detail.

We started with the many outfits of Bob Wallace (Crosby’s character). I started by trying to fit some green Army pants over the bottom half of a one-legged dress form.

I kept getting the pants stuck on the stump of one leg, which Freund and I thought was probably there to make putting on pants easier. Though it didn’t.

Then I put on the green Army shirt, and tried to tuck it in, although the pants kept slipping. I finally got the outfit on, and Freund followed me by straightening the collar and sleeves a little before clicking a picture.

“There, done,” said Freund, who took one second to snap the picture after I spent 10 minutes dressing the dummy. “Yeah, it takes a lot longer to get the clothes ready. I can sometimes spend three or four hours doing the pictures for one show.”

Dressing the dress form was fun, just to see the interesting 1940s and ’50s men’s clothes. The pieces ranged from a metallic green double-breasted suit with cuffs, to plaid overcoats and khaki sport coats.

Freund and I traded comments about the clothes and what we’d personally like to wear. Freund thought the khaki jacket was “cute” and also liked the metallic green pants. I liked the pants too, and the plaid overcoat.

And if you like clothes, this is the place to work, since some of the 80 show sets owned by MSMT have 100 or 150 costumes per show. Not to mention the 2,500 hats in the collection.

“Every day when I come in, I see something different,” Freund said.

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454, or at:

[email protected]