BWW Interview: Amanda Fehlner Designs Monsters for SHE KILLS MONSTERS at Omaha Community Playhouse
The Omaha Community Playhouse production of SHE KILLS MONSTERS opens Friday, October 12, just in time to get people excited about Halloween costumes. Amanda Fehlner, Associate Costume Designer for the Playhouse, spoke with me today about her experience with creating costumes for everything from Halloween to cosplay to theatrical productions.
You designed the costumes for SHE KILLS MONSTERS opening this week at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Where did you get your inspiration?
Well, since the fantastical costumes in this particular show are all based on "Dungeons and Dragons," I actually found old copies of the manuals that would have been used in 1995. A lot of them have pictures along with descriptions of the monsters. I used that for a lot of inspiration for the monsters, specifically.
For those of us not familiar with "cosplay," can you explain what it is?
COSPLAY is actually two words turned into one. It's costume play. It's the term used for whenever someone wants to dress up as their favorite character, whether from a movie, or a comic book, or even one that they've made up on their own. They dress up as the character and go out and have fun. So really, even Halloween costumes can be considered cosplay. Usually comic cons are where you see the most cosplay because it is the best venue for cosplay. But there are cosplay parties, or as I said, Halloween.
I understand that you started costuming by making your own Halloween costumes.
I don't specifically make Halloween costumes anymore because I have so many costumes. So, I just kinda pick which one I want to wear. In the past I'd say, "This year, I'm going to be this," and I'd make the costume. I still go out for Halloween because it's my favorite holiday.
In a January 2017 interview with Omaha Magazine you talked about creating superheroes NOT out of spandex.
Usually, yeah! (laughs) There's a pretty good combination of fabrics in SHE KILLS MONSTERS. It has to be considered how quickly they have to put the costumes on. Some of the monster costumes we constructed completely differently than if it were a cosplay. A few of the monsters are body suits so they can get into them in a quick change. That was the only way we were going to be able to do it.
I noticed that you had worked for the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Did that in any way affect the costumes you created for SHE KILLS MONSTERS?
That was a couple years after I graduated from college (University of South Dakota.) I love doing Renaissance costumes. I also work at the one here at the Bellevue Berry Farm. It's a lot of fun. It's a lot different from doing stage costumes. They're a little more concerned with historical accuracy... you have to make sure you don't have a zipper or whatnot. I enjoy doing historical research for clothing. It's fascinating for me. I'm sure some would find it boring.
What makes the costumes challenging?
Specifically for SHE KILLS MONSTERS, it is the number of monsters in it. We've kind of learned that monsters don't necessarily have rules. Like, "this is just a skirt, and this is how a skirt closes." They have loin cloths, belts and weird pieces that we're not used to making. We had to make multiple pieces because most of the monsters come on stage in a horde, not just one at a time. So we had to figure out what these weird pieces are and how to make them, and how to make several of them efficiently without rules because, you know, we don't get to make monsters very often! (laughs)
I've heard that costumes only need to look good from as close as the front row. Do you go by that?
We usually go by the front row, or the ten foot rule. Since this is in the Howard Drew, which is the smaller theater, I do make sure I pay attention to details a little more than if it's for the main stage. Most of the seats are a bit closer and you can see the details. It's still stage and you have stage lights and there's stage combat and they're moving around, so there are definitely things where "that's probably not going to be seen." It's our regular set up for the Drew, so it's not a thrust like for FUN HOME.
When you work on costumes like the monsters, do you have to draw in another person who works more with plastics or wood?
I have a lot of experience with that, actually. If we had a costume crafts department, that's where all of those things would fall. I used to work at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the costume crafts department, so I do a lot of that sort of thing for my own shows and for the other shows as well. I made twelve masks for SHE KILLS MONSTERS. They're all different sorts of monsters. I've learned with the amount of combat they have to do, that the latex masks you get in the store won't really stay on the face very well if there's a lot of movement. Also, the eye holes usually aren't quite big enough for them to be able to see what they're doing on the stage. That's why I decided to go ahead and make the masks.
What have been your favorite costumes?
Oh, let's see. That is a good question. I did enjoy working on the Beast for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. That was pretty cool. It was a collaboration of three designers. I was in charge of designing and constructing the Beast. I also did JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. Those were pretty fun. The insects' costumes were really challenging. I did CAROLINE OR CHANGE a couple years ago. That show had some fun challenges, too, personifying a washing machine and a dryer.
I'm excited for the show to open. It's been a fun process figuring it all out and being able to make monsters!
Photos credit: Colin Conces