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‘The Lion in Winter’ — spectacular costumes, great production

Last Sunday night, after the high school’s “A Taste of the Classics” performers moved out of the dressing room at the Center for the Arts, I unloaded the costumes for Thingamajig Theatre Company’s upcoming production of “The Lion in Winter” that I had picked up from Denver’s Arvada Center a few days before.

They weighed so much that I began to worry about the strength of my costume rack collapsing under the heft.

The costumes are beautiful. I fingered every bit of lace, cut of leather and hunk of metal, as I hefted them onto the rack.

“The Lion in Winter” is set in 1183 and humorously tells the account of Henry II and his dilemma over choosing which of his three sons would inherit the throne.

Therefore, the costumes, the glorious costumes, are not only period pieces, but they are period pieces designed for royalty. They were designed by Chris Campbell, the Costume Shop Manager at the Arvada Center — the second largest producing theatre company in Colorado, right behind the Denver Center, where Chris Campbell had been previously employed until her move to the Arvada Center.

The costumes were built by a staff of six, working 50 hours a week, for a period of three weeks. They are painstakingly detailed from the extent that the costumers sprayed fake mud on the shoes, hand-stitched parts of the costume that are visible enough for the audience to see the difference in machine stiches and hand stiches, and they even stained the underarms of the garment to show the sweat stains that would probably have gathered due to the fact that very little bathing and laundering were going on in the late 1100s.   Every stain and every tear is strategically placed to make the pieces look authentic.

Have I mentioned yet that they are truly glorious?  And that, yes, this entire article is all about the costumes in the upcoming production of “The Lion in Winter” which opens on Nov. 18 at the Center for the Arts. 

I interviewed Meredith Murphy, a costume designer and craftswoman at the Arvada Center who built many of the costumes that we thankfully have weighing down our costume racks awaiting the Nov.18 opening. 

I asked Meredith for the scoop on the tricks behind some of the costume pieces we are luckily about to showcase in Pagosa Springs. Theater is delightfully filled with tricks: walls that can barely stand are made to look like solid brick, graying and wrinkled men in their 30s play someone’s grandfather, the angle and color of a light makes you shift uneasily in your seat. 

Here are a few of my favorite tricks that Murphy let on the costumers played with their amazing “Lion in Winter” design: the matted and bulky fur that collars King Henry’s war worn robes is made of human hair, picked up at a wig shop and painted and matted to look like a dead animal wrapped around his neck; the royal crowns are molded from hot glue sticks; and belts from modern thrift stores and Target, stripped down with acetone, were re-dyed and layered to create the regal decoration of the era.

And the part that Meredith spent the most time on? “Leather,” she said. “And rivets — hundreds of them!”

Theater is the beautiful meeting place where all the arts get together to create one masterpiece. “The Lion in Winter” is a perfect example of this. Yes, the acting will be good.  The cast includes some of our local favorites — Anna Hershey, Robin Hebert and Tim Moore, as well as Kristal Fortune, who will be gracing the Breaks Black Box stage for the first time. Denver actors Kurt Brighton and David Trudeau are making the journey to Pagosa with their fine-tuned craft to play the parts of the English and French kings. And the directing will be top notch, as the Thingamajig Theatre Company is pulling down another of Denver’s finest directors, Pat Payne. The lighting design will be solid and the script, full of biting wit is, of course, one of theatre’s best. The set, also built by the team of professionals at the Arvada Center, will take your breath away as you enter the black box theatre. But the costumes — oh man! Wait until you see the costumes.

Don’t miss “The Lion in Winter”  Nov. 18 through Dec. 4, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. November 18 is the Champagne Opening at 6 p.m. Tickets include food, champagne, a talk back with the cast and a free “Come Again” ticket. Tickets to the Champagne Opening are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Live music plays in the art gallery for one hour before the show.

Reservations can be made by calling 731-SHOW(7469) or by visiting the website www.pagosacenter.org.

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