“Queen Elizabeth loved the roguish character of Falstaff and thus, by Her Majesty’s command, this comedy was written…” writes Director Ellen Geer in the program notes for the 2022 Theatricum Botanicum Season’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. “After Covid and all the difficult and glorious changes we face in life today, may doing this play be a part of the healing and give you JOY!”
Geer’s production places the characters in the 1950s, complete with clever costuming by Tracy Wahl. Picture a red beaded necklace à la Ethyl Merman, cat-eye glasses, crinoline petticoats, a preppy green blazer, black leather jacket sported by Falstaff with his hair slicked back and a gang of guys in army fatigues with Korean war dog tags dangling around their necks.
Costume Designer Wahl drew inspiration for the costumes by researching online vintage catalogs, picking the brain of her mother about what she remembered as being coveted clothing for women in the 1950s, and working closely with director Ellen Geer for input and to align with her vision for the play. Wahl assembled the costumes by thrifting, crafting some items herself, pulling from Theatricum’s wardrobe and incorporating some of the actors’ own pieces.
Crucially, Wahl only considered articles of clothing that would allow for actors to safely run up and down the hillside, flip upside down over the arm of a couch, engage in combat on the edge of a balcony, and perform other antics amongst the brambles and poison oak.
One of the many memorable costumes and performances is that of Quickly. Melora Marshall inhabits the character of Quickly with sassy, 1950’s conniving charm wearing a vintage navy wool dress, stunning bright red belt and necklace that was once Ethyl Merman’s. According to Wahl, Ellen Geer had the necklace and knew it would be perfect for the character so brought it forth.
Wahl sourced the vintage wool dress from Theatricum’s wardrobe and said the dress is so nicely made she only needed to make little adjustments to get it ready for the wear and tear of a summer of performances. She tied Marshall’s costume together with a red bow and rose to match the fabulous Ethyl Merman vintage beads.
Wahl grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley. She has loved creating costumes since she was a girl. She recalls getting home from school, getting out of her clothes and getting into costumes as a favorite pastime—one creation was a toga she especially liked to wear. Later she relished making costumes for the Renaissance Faire. In the1990s, Wahl began to dig deeper into her passion for costuming and took a class in flat pattern making at West Valley Occupational Center. Wahl explained, “I wanted to learn how to translate what I was thinking into patterns.”
Wahl has been coming to see shows at the Theatricum for years. Her late husband was a huge Shakespeare fan. Wahl’s daughter, Sky, started in the summer Shakespeare camp as a teen. Over the years the mother-daughter duo have helped to make and decorate the haunted house for BOO-tanicum and Sky would act in the haunted house. Both Wahls are now members of the Theatricum company. Sky has been performing with the company for six years. This year includes her rocking out on the drums and contributing to pulse pumping performances of several outstanding arrangements of favorite ‘50’s tunes with clever, ribald lyrics by Peter Alsop.
Wahl worked for years in a library, and in a love of costumes, is an artist. She started costume designing for Theatricum productions in 2019 and clearly has taken the work to a new level.
“It’s a thrill to do this,” she said. “What I really like is helping the actors. The actors show you where you are. If the costumes help them do their job, if the actor likes the costume and says ‘Yes!’ I find that very satisfying.”
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