“Mary Poppins is the biggest Mainstage show we’ve ever done. It’s 218 looks, 500 individual pieces, all for a cast of 75 people. It’s a giant, immense show for the 40th anniversary.”
– Mary Folino
In anticipation for the opening of “Disney’s Mary Poppins,” marketing intern, Mikaela Uricheck sat down with Mainstage costume designer, Mary Folino and costume shop manager, Lauren Kaisoglus. They explained the design process behind bringing a design off the page and to the stage.
The duo met through the Walnut Street Theatre, where Lauren was Mary’s apprentice. In the years since, Mary became the Walnut’s costume shop manager and the two grew to become close friends.
Lauren expressed how their collaboration began. She said, “Mary was my boss. Then I started working here as the boss, and now I’m Mary’s boss! I hired her to be a designer here during her offseason. It’s her seventh summer here and fifth Mainstage show.”
How do the costumes help tell the story of Mary Poppins?
MF: I think they immediately put you in the right place and time. They tell you that this is a magical journey and that we are not in present day. They give you the sense of theatricality that you want to see when you come to see a show.
Mary Poppins is a period piece, set in 1910. How did the time period influence the design of the show?
MF: Although it’s set in 1910, the fashion is leftover from the Victorian era. Every cast member has a hat and gloves, because no one went out without those. It’s also a lot of accessories – During that time period people wore everything.
It was a time of change. The 1900s moving into the 1910s was the cusp of when women stopped wearing bustles and floor-length skirts; they showed some ankle and wore slimmer skirts. The lower class did not change their style as quickly as the upper class did so the people who are maids and chimney sweeps, people who are working for a living, are still wearing what has been the standard for the Victorian era.
For men, their look stayed pretty similar from the Victorian age into the 1910s and 1920s. At that point they became the suits we know of now. The looks were very tailored. We use a lot of frock coats, vests and period collars. We took a lot of modern dress shirts and changed the collars on them so they are round. I like taking things and turning them into other things.
Where did you find inspiration when designing the show?
MF: As a show, Mary Poppins is iconic. People expect to see things look a certain way. Anything you can design new, has to be modeled after the Broadway production.
We try to match the stuff from the Broadway production, bit still put our own spin on it.
What was the largest challenge of designing for a Mainstage production?
MF: It’s just a huge show. Some people have one costume, others have six. It’s also the largest cast for a Mainstage production I’ve ever had. The biggest challenges are the giant cast and getting everyone organized enough in order to accomplish it.
LK: It’s a huge show!
MF: We also have limited time and resources so we pick and choose what is important and let the rest go. We built all of Mary’s costumes and large groups are always important. The people need to be in a theme so you can’t piece costumes together randomly. We built a lot of “Supercal” pieces and rented some pieces for “Jolly Holiday.”
What was your favorite number to design?
MF: Supercal! It has as many colors as we can get on the stage. Marcus wanted it to be very bright. Everyday London is very dark, and everything that Mary brings into the world is brightly colored. There are two choruses in our show. One ensemble is the Londoners; they are dark and translate the scenes outside in the real world. Then there’s a second ensemble, who come in whenever there is a magical moment.
How do you prepare for moving the costumes from the shop to the stage?
LK: It’s a balance between keeping the work going, not burning anybody out and getting done. Keeping it going, keeping people happy. It’s supposed to be fun at Summer Stage. We love to produce a pretty, amazing product. Expectations are high, so we want to meet them and also impress.
MF: For the dress run and tech rehearsal, we have that week where we see things, take notes and fix them. And then it’s the show! I’m currently working on writing down every costume piece. The cast will check them in and out for every show because we want to keep track of every piece.
LK: We also work the quick changes for the show. Our four interns work on that.
What’s your favorite thing about working in Summer Stage’s costume shop?
LK: The people!
MF: I would say 90 percent of the people in the shop have worked for me. They were my apprentices, which Lauren eventually brought to work here. Lauren and I have a nice relationship and ultimately, some of the interns here have become my apprentices.
Lauren, where do you find the inspiration for the weekly general meeting?
LK: Yes, love that question! We toss around ideas in the costume shop during the week. It’s usually things we have around. We try to think of things we have at Summer Stage that we have a lot of, like cheerleaders or mermaids. It’s all different. I just learned how to play the ukulele so I played a song. We usually plan it the day of the general meeting. My staff likes to plan it and run up to the costume attic. We just have fun with it!