Lynda Carlson designs costumes - hundreds of them.
She's been performing this role for so long it's hard to remember how many she's created, crafted or sewn by hand for dozens of Coast plays and pantomimes. There were at least 40 outfits for Cinderella, she recalls, and as many for Aladdin. In fact, if you include the costumes she has designed for a string of local plays such as Seascape - she created the bizarre skins for the giant lizards - and for Chamber Music in which each cast member played a character from history, she has probably worked on over 250 outfits. As this year's pantomime season approaches, Carlson is back at work finding suitable costumes for Alice in Blunderland, opening at the Raven's Cry Theatre in December. "Only about 30 costumes this time," she says airily, although she admits the task takes a lot of time and organization. Like many of the Panto-Musica Society folks who produce the annual pantomimes, Carlson volunteers her services as wardrobe mistress for these productions. That is, in between working part time at the Gibsons Library, singing in a Balkan women's choir and raising three children. She's never had formal design training other than the skills she learned when her mother taught her to sew at age 16. "Pantomime has to be flashy," she says, "full of storybook concepts." She takes many of her ideas from the books she reads to her children. She's also learned not to spend too much time sewing details that can't be seen on stage and has learned how to work within a modest budget. "It's easier most times to start from scratch with a pattern, but it's cheaper to buy," she says.
She's learned how to buy a dress at the thrift store and take it apart to make a tunic for Prince Charming. In a later play, the tunic will be used again, this time with the addition of some braid, a silver belt and an emblem. When working with set designer Nadina Tandy on Cinderella, Carlson decided to go with Dr. Seuss-style characters instead of the traditional storybook look. The resulting comical dresses, particularly those of the ugly stepsisters, remain some of her favourites. But the true challenges are the animals, for example, Daisy the Cow. The cow's head used in Jack and the Beanstalk has been carved from three thicknesses of packing foam that a fellow performer rescued from a discarded box. She glued the layers, drew the face, then painted it, taking her illustration from a website picture of a cow. It sat firmly and well down on the head of singer Dora Brooks, allowing her room to sing unobstructed. The camel's head, used in Aladdin, was a different story. "It was made of foam rubber and was squishy to work with," she recalls. The result is a funny, loopy camel that almost stole the show.
Of course, Carlson cannot accomplish all the sewing herself. The mothers of cast members chip in a lot of sewing time, plus many other volunteers who take her shopping for fabric or who wait in the wings each night to iron the costumes and dress the cast. But when it comes to the smaller productions such as Twelve Angry Men, Agnes of God or the various Peninsula Players productions, she can often be found at rehearsals, sewing by hand. "I read all the scripts at least three times," she says, "to see if there is some detail that I have to provide."
What's the scoop on the new costumes for Alice in Blunderland? Carlson isn't divulging much yet. "They'll be bold and colourful," she says, with all the aplomb of a Paris designer launching a new line.