Meet the Staff: Elinor “Brit” Watts,
Assistant Costume Shop Manager
by Theresa M. MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate
Elinor “Brit” Watts is the Assistant Costume Shop Manager at Hartford Stage. Brit has worked at Hartford Stage for 10 years and was honored at Hartford Stage’s Annual Meeting last June with the “Barry Award” in recognition of her character, service, and dedication to our art.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in England, and we moved to the United States when I was 11. I have lived in every major geographical area of this country – from Seattle to Miami. There have been a lot of road trips in my life! I have my Master’s Degree from Sarah Lawrence and have been working in costume shops or wardrobe for almost 15 years.
What first sparked your interest in pursuing a career in costume production?
My very first college work study was with the costume department at Cottey College. I had to clean, organize, and pull costumes for productions from the costume storage. The general stock was really very good for a small college. However, they had a locked room where all of the vintage pieces that had been donated were kept. At the end of my first year, we held a fashion show with all these pieces. The oldest wearable dress was a 1920’s pink beaded dress from Paris, which remains one of the most amazing clothing items I have ever had the pleasure to touch and work on. I have worked in wardrobe or in costume shops ever since.
What was the first professional theatrical production you attended? Was there a specific costume that you saw on stage that really spoke to you?
My first theatrical performance as an audience member was at a Panto in England. My family went to a production of Cinderella. A woman always plays the prince, a man plays the “The Dame” figure in fabulous drag, and there is always, always audience participation. I was too young to really focus on the costumes, but I knew I had to do something that involved the stage.
What do you consider to be the most challenging aspects of your job?
The job is different everyday – being flexible and able to change plans quickly is the most challenging aspect.
How does the shop prepare to costume a large cast, like that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
The prep work before the cast arrives involves gathering measurements, and setting up the “Bible” – all the organizational labeling and dividing that helps us later down the road when we can sometimes have hundreds of built/pulled/rented costumes gathered in the shop. We decide what we are going to build, what we can purchase, and if we are going to hire more stitchers or bid out to local drapers. All of these decisions are made based on the length of the build, sketches and research, conversations with the designer and our draper. In the end, everything we do is in service to creating the best production possible.
Tell us about your favorite costume project and what made it stand out for you.
I was the wardrobe supervisor at Hartford Stage during The Orphans’ Home Cycle. While it was being built, I was also stitching in the costume shop – so I got to build quite a few garments before moving downstairs to take care of them during the run. This production stands out not only because I worked on the show for so long (I think it was around 3 or 4 months total) but the challenge of running a production that large with only one other person was invigorating – stressful but exciting.
Can you share some details about the beautiful dress you built for The Tempest?
The dress for The Tempest (worn by Sarah Topham) was draped by John Cowles. It is made from beautiful, cream wool gauze and lined in soft peach chiffon. I got to build this dress, and it is one of my favorites. Every seam apart from the empire waist seam is a French seam (this means that each seam is sewn twice so that the raw edge is encased) and had the additional detail of a keyhole on the sleeve.
What would people be most surprised to learn about costume production?
Probably the time, and sometimes the amount of people, it can take to build one costume. There have been costumes built here that 10 different people have worked on before it finally went downstairs and onto the stage.
Do you have other talents or passions outside of working in theatre?
I love to travel, specifically long distance (multi-day) hiking. My favorite past trips include hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland and the Salkantay Pass in Peru.
How did you get your nickname?
In seventh grade, my English teacher started to call me “The Brit” – which over the years got shortened to just “Brit.” Now I answer to Elinor or Brit, as they are equally a part of my identity.