Backstage and Beyond - Lucy Walshaw, Head of Costume
Welcome to Backstage and Beyond, a series of interview in which we talk to theatre industry professionals to find out more about their jobs. Everyone knows what an actor does, but it takes a lot more than just the people on stage to make a show. Please join us as we quiz people in all sorts of cool theatre jobs on their work, what it involves, and how you could do the same. Our next candidate is Lucy Walshaw, Head of Costume at the Royal Court Theatre.
Can you explain to us what exactly your job involves?
My job title is ‘Head of Costume’, which means that I supervise all the costuming for the shows in our downstairs theatre. With every new show, my work starts off by talking to costume designer. They’ll tell me what they want, and then I go and sort it out. That involves going out to buy things, but also finding the right person to make a certain costume if it’s not something that you’ll come across in the shop. It’s my job to make the designer’s vision come true. I like to say that I’m a facilitator of dreams! For every show I make a breakdown of the script: how many characters are there, how many costumes do they have, are there any quick changes? I also do fittings with the actors, and I attend the previews to make sure everything looks good before press night. But I also have more administrative responsibilities, like managing the costume budget and booking staff for shows, so there’s a lot of variety.
How did you get to this position?
I studied fashion: costume making and wardrobe. When I was at school I didn’t even know that costume supervising was a job that you could do, so I only found out about that after I graduated. I started off with assistant jobs, doing lots of freelance work. And then I started working here three years ago.
What does your daily schedule look like?
It really varies, depending on where we are in the process of working on a show. Sometimes we have time in between shows to clean up, wash all the costumes and get them organised again. We also have to return everything that we ended up not using, and I have to finalise the budget for the show. And then you start all over again!
What are the best parts and the worst parts of your work?
My favourite part of the job is doing the all the research and the getting to go out and find stuff. You have a lot of independence. Especially when you’re working on a period show it can be a challenge, because vintage clothes are much harder to find. You literally have to go down to the charity shop and see what’s there. But at the same time that’s also my least favourite part of the work, because you can spend hours looking for something and end up with nothing. And you have to carry lots of heavy bags!
What advice would you give to young people who are interested in going into your line of work?
Go to college! And you have to like working with people. When you work in the theatre it’s a lot about who you know, you have to make contacts with the right people. Stay in touch with people that you’ve worked with and stay updated on what they’re doing. It’s very much about helping each other out.
What do you enjoy about working at the Royal Court?
The shows here are all new writing, so there is lots of variety. And our team is very nice. We’re a mix of Royal Court employees and freelancers, but we’re really inclusive. Because we’re a small team, we all do a little bit of everything, so you learn something new on almost every show.
What are your hopes for the future of London theatre?
I usually don’t think much about what comes after the next show. Costume is not a field that changes very much. But we are very conscious of being as environmentally friendly as possible, that’s very important to us!