Jennifer Bilbo

Costume Shop Manager

What are your major responsibilities?
I’m the manager, and I do a lot of teaching. I’m also a wardrobe supervisor, a design assistant and a shopper. In the professional world, these more specialized duties are done by different people. I’ve even run shows here—being backstage and changing actors’ clothes during live productions.

Do you have a favorite quick-fix tip for costume repair?
Gaff tape. It’s very strong. If someone breaks a heel during a musical, and I don’t have 20 minutes to go into stock to find the perfect dance shoe replacements, I’ve been known to tape heels onto shoes. In an emergency, you do what you have to do.

What’s an indispensable tool of your trade?
We can’t find any of the materials we need in Hanover, so I can’t live without my list of sources. I’ve built up a swatch collection—I have binders of fabrics that we can choose from so I can call up vendors. I also have a list of bookmarks for online sources: belt buckles, jewelry, corset-making supplies, vintage eyeglasses, tailors, milliners, craftspeople, painters, dyers, whatever.

Do you archive all the costumes after a production?
We keep most of them, but periodically we purge. When I started this job we had an enormous costume sale. We filled Bentley Theater with our stock. That was in 2013, so it’s probably time to purge again.

What’s the best part of your job?
I have amazing colleagues, and I love working with the students, who tend to be really well motivated. We have one student—Celeste Jennings ’18—who wants to be a costume designer. When she came in as a freshman she just wanted to learn how to sew, then she fell in love with theater and with costumes. 

How many students work with you?
I have five work-study students and five others who are working as part of a theater course requirement. Some also need production credits—that’s a requirement of the major.

What are some of the strangest items in the costume shop?
Frock coats from the 1880s, dinner jackets from the 1920s, 1940s day dresses, collapsible silk top hats. We also have whips and things like that.

Photo by John Sherman

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