BWW Interviews: Gillian Austin Talks PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL's Costumes
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL, or the ultimate party bus, is headed towards Houston. With our ears to the ground we can hear the faint pulse of the poppy disco beats filling Denver audiences with joy. Soon the splashy, feel good musical will be mirthfully leaving Houston audiences dancing in the aisles. Last week, while the bus was stopped in San Francisco I chatted with Gillian Austin, the shows' Wardrobe Supervisor, about the amazingly audacious, memorable, and vastly impressive and Tony Award winning costumes, which were designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner who also won an Oscar for their costumes design for the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
BWW: How did you first get started in theatre?
Gillian Austin: How I got started in theatre was a lucky accident. I took some sewing classes at FIT New York - The Fashion Institute - and I found out that costuming was an actual job. I had no idea before then. Cruise ships actually hire wardrobe people to go and alter costumes for them. I started doing cruise ship shows, altering the costumes and maintaining the costumes for their productions. Then, I just kept meeting people, and I heard about working on national tours. So, I managed to get into a position with HAIRSPRAY, which was my first actual show.
BWW: Awesome! That's another costume heavy production.
Gillian Austin: (Laughs) Yeah! So, I've been doing it about eight years now.
BWW: When did you realize that you wanted to do costuming professionally?
Gillian Austin: That's kind of a hard one. (Laughs) Well, I was living in New York City, and I started becoming introduced to all the different fashion that was there. I'm from a suburb in Chicago, so the most we had was a mall. But being able to see all the people dressing so interesting was just really inspiring. I had never participated in it before hand, but I got really interested in making things. I do a lot of embroidery, beading, lace making, and stuff like that, like really dorky design stuff. I liked it so much I wanted to incorporate it into garments. That kind of lead into that, and then I realized there was an actual niche for this in costume making because that's kind of the only world that uses really specific couture pieces, handmade garments, and stuff. I kind of came at it through the sewing way because I really like sewing!
BWW: How did you get involved with PRISCILLA QUEEN ON THE DESERT THE MUSICAL's First National Tour?
Gillian Austin: I knew about the show on Broadway, and then I found out that the company I work for, Troika, was going to be sending out the first national tour of it. Everyone was really excited. My parents knew about it, and they were pushing me to (Laughs) try and get into it. I e-mailed the costume director. My best friend was actually going to be on the tour as well as the assistant. The two of us had worked together before. So, I kind of asked her [the costume director] to give me a chance to do it, and she agreed! Then, I started last November with costume fittings.
BWW: Are any of the costumes on the tour from the Broadway production, or did you have to completely recreate them all.
Gillian Austin: They are all from the Broadway production. We were really lucky with that because we could have never recreated everything ourselves.
BWW: What's the process like taking the costumes from their incarnations on Broadway and altering them to fit the new cast?
Gillian Austin: For our current cast, we basically found which body type they most closely resembled to the people on Broadway. Then made them fit that way, if that makes sense. If it was a specific look, like if this person has to be the priest, and if the costume completely wasn't alterable at all, then you have to look at either purchasing something or creating something from scratch.
BWW: What's your favorite costume in PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL?
Gillian Austin: That's hard because I have a lot of favorite ones, and it changes depending on my mood. It kind of goes by song. In "Go West," I really like the Indian Chief. It's "Go West" by the Village People. One of the secret, inside things about the song is that the Village People are actually on stage. So, we have the Indian Chief, the Cop, the Construction Worker, and the Sailor who are dancing around with all the cowboys. I really like him because he has this great, long feather headpiece. It's all pale blue, white, and silver. It's really fun. I also love the cockatoo costumes for the finale. They're made up of all these hundreds and hundreds individually sewn and hand embroidered feathers. They didn't mess around when they were making these costumes; trust me. They are not just white dresses. They are made up out of cloth feathers. Also, the emus are one of my favorites as well because the choreography and the look of the costumes just go so great together. (Laughs)