Everything’s Gothic onstage at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, with “The Addams Family” musical on just in time for Halloween. But next door, the community theater’s costume shop goes from vintage to “Mary Poppins” to 1970s zombie. The playhouse’s annual costume sale, running Oct. 15-23, raises money for the theater and helps keep the enormous costume department under control. For savvy Halloween shoppers, it’s a perfect way to get a unique costume with a lot of local history.
“The big attraction of buying a costume here is the detail work that is different from what you’d find in a store,” says head costumer Jocelyne Fowler. “And it’s going to be better quality.”
It’s going to make your Halloween more original, because these pieces are unique.
Costume volunteer Kat Fresh
“It’s going to make your Halloween more original, because these pieces are unique,” adds volunteer Kat Fresh. “They’re one of a kind.”
Or two, or five, even. On the two dozen racks filling the Banquet Room next to the playhouse’s costume shop on Sixth Avenue, there are indeed some one-off beauties: fur coats and vintage dresses, donated by patrons and too fragile for the stage; a yellow gingham Dorothy dress; a huge furry black-and-white cat costume.
But, this being a theater, there are also sets of costumes: frilly Edwardian frocks in matching pastels (“Mary Poppins,” maybe), around a dozen spangly stars-and-stripes cowgirl hats (think “Oklahoma”) and a row of 1970s jumpsuits hanging on the wall, silky black with gold bell bottoms and sparkly hot pink bralettes — perfect for your average ABBA-loving zombie.
While Tacoma Musical Playhouse has had an October costume sale for three years now, this one is the biggest. The theater is 22 years old, and it makes about half of the costumes it needs for seven mainstage shows a year, plus family and education shows. That’s a lot of costumes, and when you add in various donated items, it adds up to a very crowded costume shop. This year, Fowler and her crew are remodeling and have gone through everything, putting items that can’t be used into the sale.
400-500 Costumes at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse costume sale
“There’s around 400 to 500 pieces in here,” says Fresh, who’ll sort the costumes neatly into categories for shoppers: period, genre, men’s, women’s and so on. “Some costumes go back 22 years to the beginning of TMP.”
It’s a vast, colorful array. There is a cream lace wedding gown with a pearl-beaded yoke, as well as a flowery silver saloon-girl skirt with attached white feather boa and red Santa tail (yes, really). There are tweed blazers, pin-stripe pants and tricorn hats. There are a boned bustle petticoat, gold booty shorts, black boleros and a long African robe in bright tangerine. You could dress up as Puss in Boots, a medieval page or a Victorian dowager; you could step into “Annie,” “Ragtime,” “Mamma Mia” or “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
And forget the dim red lighting in a typical Halloween store. Here in the 50-foot-long banquet room you have Tuscan gold walls and a floor-to-ceiling mirror, plus dressing rooms out back and plenty of daylight.
But aside from dressing yourself in a piece of Tacoma musical history, you’ll also be nabbing a costume that is significantly better made than most — something that can withstand the rigors of a three-week theater run.
Theater costumes are more durable and well-made than most Halloween outfits.
“Probably a good half of these were hand-made by a costumer somewhere,” explains Fowler, who builds costumes for Tacoma Musical Playhouse, Book-It Repertory Theater and others, and is nominated for a 2016 Theatre Puget Sound Gregory Award. “They’re not flimsy, and the fabric isn’t that cheap polyester you’ll buy at a Spirit Store.”
As well as double-seams and sturdy linings, theater costumes also have to be easy to put on and take off during quick changes. So you’ll get plenty of convenient Velcro or zippers, except perhaps on the vintage items and ball gowns.
The theater will also have some lucky-dip jewelry bags, ticket giveaways and a vintage dress for auction. Costume volunteer Grace Stone is selling her handmade embroidery skull earrings (perfect for that Mary Poppins Goth look), and on the sale’s first weekend “The Addams Family” will be onstage next door.
Just think twice before you buy that black-and-white cat suit.
“I was the Easter Bunny at the Puyallup Fair for years,” says Fresh, holding the furry suit up against her and shaking her head. “I know this would be really hot to wear.”
Costume Shop Sale
Where: Banquet Room, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 15-16 and 22-23.
Cost: Free to enter, costumes $1-$50.
Information: 253-565-6867, tmp.org.