Ryan Moller (left) and Travis Grant are both designing the costumes for Maine State Music Theatre’s summer productions. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK —  When Belle walked out on stage for the first time, draped in the swaths of golden fabric and intricate, glittering embroidery that made up her signature gown from Beauty and the Beast, there were gasps and whispers from the audience as they took in the hand made gown that was every little girl’s princess fantasy.

This moment is one of costume designer Ryan Moller’s crowning achievements.

Moller is a designer working with Maine State Music Theatre, designing the costumes for this summer’s productions of “Treasure Island” and “Hello, Dolly!” Costume Rentals Coordinator Travis Grant is designing the costumes for “The Wizard of Oz.”

While the actors generally start working three or four months before a show, Grant and Moller are busy up to a year in advance, researching, sketching, designing, buying and building the costumes that, once they go on stage for Maine State Music Theatre, can then be rented out to theaters all over the country. A single show can have hundreds of costumes. When Grant worked on “Singin’ in the Rain,” there were over 100 costumes just for one 13 minute segment.

“We’re creating a whole world with a piece of lace and shiny buttons,” Grant said.

Right now, Moller is in town from New York and the two are putting in 12 hour days, swatching fabric and buying materials for their upcoming shows.


Both are excited to be able to put their own spin on the costumes. Some pieces have to hold with tradition, like Belle’s golden gown, or Dorothy’s blue gingham dress, but the designers do have a fair bit of creative license. Moller, for example, has designed Dolly’s famous red dress in a way that he feels is different than “anything we’ve seen before.” Grant’s tin man, too, is going to be more flexible and with a little more flair than perhaps a traditional, stiff metal suit.

Travis Grant shows off some of his sketches for an upcoming production of “The Wizard of Oz,” including his reimagined Tin Man. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

This is not the first time either of them has reimagined classic costumes.

Grant created the costumes for a production of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” that was more “cyberpunk,” he said, inspired by the idea that all of the dancing Transylvanians were the cast aside, failed experiments of Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s attempts to create his perfect mate.

Moller too, took “Chicago,” which for years has been very “stripped down,” he said, leaving the actors mostly in “black underwear” and gave it a burst of color, returning to its long ago, burlesque inspirations.

There are still shows that they dream of being able to design. For Grant, who calls himself a “glutton for punishment,” it’s something with a lot of glitter and opulence like “La Cage Aux Folles” or “Scarlet Pimpernel.” For Moller, it would be a big period musical like “a Little Night Music” or the fanciful fairy tale “Into the Woods.”

Interestingly, both agreed that their favorite musicals, shows like “Nine” and “Floyd Collins” are ones they would never want to design for.


Over their careers, which for both of them started in community theater when they were teenagers, they have each made thousands of costumes for hundreds of shows.

In Maine State Music Theater Costume’s office in Fort Andross alone, there are thousands of garments and accessories for the company’s last 53 shows. Rows of newsboy caps, sailor hats, pirate hats, cowboy hats, every kind of hat imaginable line the ceiling, above racks and racks stuffed full of plaids, earth tones and bright colors in taffeta, silk, lace and of course, sequins. Sewing machines and piles of folded fabric and bolted material cover every available surface in the back of the room

A gown from “Beauty and the Beast,” designed by Ryan Moller, and one from “Singin’ in the Rain,” designed by Travis Grant, both handmade and involving intricate beadwork. Now that both dresses have appeared on stage with Maine State Music Theatre, both are rented out to theatres across the country. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

Something like a men’s dress shirt they might buy and for budgetary reasons they always buy shoes, but almost everything else from a bonnet to a three-piece suit is custom made.

“If something doesn’t work, I can’t just go down to the ‘Hello, Dolly!’ store at the mall,” Moller said.

“People think we’re just sitting at sewing machines making Halloween costumes all day but there’s so much research and hard work involved,” Grant added. Maine State Music Theatre bought the original costumes from the London production of ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot,’ and something small like just replacing the many ostrich feathers, which get worn down or fall off and are held in place by tiny individual crystals, can take up most of a day, he said.

Grant and Moller both started out as actors and left for different reasons: Moller because he was not a very good singer, he said, and Grant because he was always typecast as a large male for the same kind of characters.


Behind the scenes, he can walk through the audience at intermission and hear the conversations, sometimes good, like people squealing over Belle’s gown, or sometimes bad, concerning his work.

Because of his experience on stage, Moller tries to design from the actor’s point of view. “I like giving the actor the last little bit of their character,” he said. Often, it’s something small, like lining all the costumes of an envious character with green fabric, something that the audience may never notice.

“It’s all the tiny details,” he said.

“Treasure Island” opens June 26, “Hello, Dolly!” opens July 17 and “The Wizard of Oz” opens Aug. 7. Tickets will go on sale at msmt.org.


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