Keeping Broadway’s ‘Wicked’ Costumes Spellbinding

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Photo Source: Nina Robinson

Tony-Honored wardrobe supervisor Alyce Gilbert has been on Broadway for decades, working on “Wicked” since it opened in 2003, and shows such as the original productions of “A Chorus Line” and “Dreamgirls.”

When did you start costume maintenance?
I started doing this in Milwaukee when I was 12. Before I came to Broadway with “A Chorus Line,” I did a lot of Off-Broadway shows. I think I did 12 in one year, because Off-Broadway was much more active in those days than it is now…. It was like every time I turned around I was opening and closing a show. I learned a great deal doing that, and I’ve been on Broadway now for 37 years.

What is your favorite costume in “Wicked”?
Elphaba’s Act 2 dress; it has great durability and it goes on for years looking good. There’s been a huge contribution by the very shops that make these [costumes]. There are five costume shops involved and they all have made really specific contributions to what these look like. There’s a sketch, there’s an idea, but where they go with it is what makes this happen.

What requires the most maintenance?
The monkey wings have to be checked every day because it’s a mechanical thing. This show is particularly repair-centric; this is not a lot of ironing and steaming, which some shows are. We have multitudes of different fabric, we have a lot of abrasion, a lot of wear because there’s so many things rubbing on each other. Sort 375 costumes, counting the swings, and there’s always stuff to look at.

Do you have advice for those looking to work in wardrobe?
Just do it. It’s a field where there’s openings. You shouldn’t show up at the Theatrical Wardrobe Union and say, “I’ve always wanted to be backstage and I can’t act and so I should do wardrobe because I wear clothes.” You want to work at it. It’s always a good thing to learn how to sew, and the better you learn how to sew the more employable you are. Try to work in the Off-Broadway world. The job is the same whether you do it in a dinner theater or a school production. You’re always dealing with actors, the clothes, the budget, the management—the only thing that changes is how much money you have to deal with and how many people you have working with you.

Do you have design input?
Sometimes I could input, like, things on fabric in particular, because if your show is going to run five months, you can pretty much make it out of whatever you want to. There are a lot of fabrics that are attractive to designers because they come in a lot of wonderful colors, they’re light, they’re crisp, they mold, they take a shape—they’re really lovely, but they also crack on every fold, so if you wear them for long, they start shredding. If [the show] is going to run longer than eight weeks, you’re going to start to sew patches on it.

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Briana Rodriguez
Briana is the Editor-in-Chief at Backstage. She oversees editorial operations and covers all things film and television. She's interested in stories about the creative process as experienced by women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. You can find her on Twitter @brirodriguez and on Instagram @thebrianarodriguez
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