… and she’s loving it!

We sat down with student Nika Cassaro this week to hear about her work on Pocket Opera’s production of Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti.

Cañada Fashion Department (CFD):    Tell me about Elixir of Love.

NC:      The plot’s very simple. Nemorino is in love with Adina. He is poor and uneducated; he has no chance with her. A soldier named Belcore comes to town and starts to court Adina. She’s not interested in him either, but it makes Nemorino nervous. He takes a love potion but it’s actually wine. Hijinks ensue. I don’t want to give too much away, but everyone ends up happily ever after. It’s really very funny.

[See clips from recent performance here.]

CFD:      How has it been working on the show?

NC:      It’s gone really well. The actors were all super nice. [One challenge is the productions are done on] very small stages. We also have the Pocket Philharmonic, a tiny orchestra that plays behind the actors. There is minimal set dressing—just a couple of benches and a few props the actors can interact with. So the music, the performers and the costumes have to carry the whole thing.

The bare-bones sets of Pocket Opera’s shows make the costumes that much more important.

CFD:    How did you get involved with the Pocket Opera?

NC:      A lot of the people who work for Lamplighters [Music Theater] work for Pocket Opera. The Artistic Director of Elixir was also the stage director of Pirates of Penzance. I worked on [Pirates of Penzance] as a summer intern.

CFD:    What are you doing for this show?

NC:      This was my first show as the costumer, by myself. [The artistic director] gave me a lot of flexibility, but he had a very small budget. I’m the only person doing costumes for the whole project. I find costumes, do alterations, backstage wardrobe … everything.

CFD:    What research did you do to guide your costuming choices for the show?

NC:    Belcore’s uniform is really important. I had to figure out what kind he was going to wear. I looked at what wars were fought in those years and went with what was within that time period, which was the Spanish-American War. That meant 1898-1902 was the target I was going for.

The actor playing Belcore is 6’2” … I didn’t find any uniforms to rent [in his size]. I ended up purchasing most of his costume pieces from What Price Glory. [WPG] does military replicas. I found one that was close enough and modified it.

Belcore in his period-appropriate uniform.

I also rented costumes from Lamplighters and [American Conservatory Theater] ACT. I had to go to a lot of different places. I ended up going to ACT five or six times!

CFD:    Do you have to undo the alterations you make to the rented pieces?

NC:      Alterations are par for the course, but you have to do them in a non-destructive way. For example, if you’re taking up a hem, you can’t cut the fabric. This time I used decorative tucks on the outside of a skirt to make it shorter. In another case, I added a strip of fabric at the bottom of a skirt to lengthen it.

CFD:    Is it different working for singers than for non-singing actors?

NC:      Usually they would tell me, like if they didn’t want anything tight around their neck. The lead actor had a shirt that fit fine, but there’s a scene where the girls are tugging on him. [He explained,] “I can’t sing when they’re tugging on my shirt.” A couple of [the actors] wanted me to measure them with their chest expanded.

Nemorino fending off the young women of the village after taking the “love potion.”

CFD:    When did you start taking fashion classes at Cañada?

NC:      In the summer of 2017. I did stuff a little bit backwards. I graduated in 2012 with a BFA from Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota Florida with a major in Illustration. I struggled to find work out here and finally decided to volunteer somewhere. I cold-called a bunch of theaters in the area. TheaterWorks got back to me first and were right where I live, so I was super lucky. They were between shows and not very busy. They put me on doing repairs. I worked 11-5, Monday through Friday. Finally they were like, “You’re here every day; do you want to be an intern?”

CFD:    How did you end up taking classes at Cañada?

NC:      I asked [the team at TheaterWorks], “If I want to do this for a living, what do I need to get better at?” They said “more experience with sewing.” Cañada was inexpensive and right nearby. I took two classes in Fall of 2017: Beginning Flat Pattern and Pants Drafting. I’ve been going ever since.

Nika presents her final project in Tailoring last December. “The process of fitting ourselves … was really good practice,” she notes.

CFD:    Do you use your art degree much these days?

NC:      I do actually. Color theory, pattern, contrast, balance are all directly applicable to theater. As far as illustration goes, part of my internship at TheaterWorks was working in the rentals department. I got to do a project where we designed a theoretical show based on a show that TheaterWorks had already done, placed in another time period. I used my drawing skills; they thought that was cool.

What really matters for directors is to give them something visual to communicate what you’re going for: “This is what this character is going to wear for this scene,” including shoes and accessories.

CFD:    Which Cañada classes are helping you with your work now and how?

NC:      I’ve used my pattern-making skills a whole lot. I made patterns for The Pirates of Penzance

Also the general practice of making clothes for classes at Cañada, I’ve used those sewing skills a lot. I’ve gotten a lot faster and better at sewing in general. Theoretically I could do it on my own using a book, but being forced to practice is a much more reliable way.

CFD:    Any advice for other students interested in theater costuming?

NC:      I would recommend doing an internship. If you have a place that’s local to you but they don’t have an internship, I would still encourage you to contact them and potentially volunteer to get on-the-job experience. When I got the internship for Lamplighters with [CFD faculty member] Judy [Jackson], I just went up to her and asked.

The last performance of Elixir of Love is this Sunday, March 10 at 5:00 p.m. at Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Purchase tickets here.