My first Columbia costume was not what you would call screen accurate. I didn’t even know the phrase “screen accurate”. But I thought it was great. I made black cotton shorts and attached a variety of colorful stripes –including metallic ric-rac. And because it was the 80s, my mother had a striped sequin tube top that I begged her to give me (to be cut up and defiled), and I made my first tail coat out of liquid lame – it didn’t have a single sequin on it. I can’t remember my hat, but I think it was one of those glitter numbers from the party store. In all, it was a pretty great first costume. Over the years as I became more involved I upgraded the pieces.
Working on my costume became my hobby. And my hobby eventually supplemented my income. But that’s not what I’m writing about. It’s that we all begin somewhere. Maybe you’re on a cast that provides a lot of costumes already. Maybe you have to acquire your own costume before you can even audition. Either way, costuming is usually integral to performing with a shadow cast and you don’t have to break the bank to get started.
If you’re on a cast that provides a lot already, I would still recommend acquiring your own pieces. Maybe you’re not sure which character you’ll be performing most, but once you sink your teeth into a role it’s worth acquiring own costume. Not only will it fit you better, and be better cared for, but it will let you stand apart as an individual performer.
If you have to acquire a costume upfront to perform then my best advice is to start from the beginning of the film and work your way to the end. You can always upgrade later. And chances are you will. You’ll find yourself saying “next time I’m going to add ____.”
How much should you spend in the beginning? Like any other hobby or activity, you’re not going to get very far without spending at least something. Thrift stores and eBay are the best places to start. While you might not find something “perfect” on a tight budget, you can almost always find something to fix up – and this is where it gets fun! There are several websites devoted exclusively to Rocky Horror costumes.
Once you have a complete set of costumes for your character you’ll probably begin upgrading. You’ll find a khaki jacket with a better shaped collar, or the perfect white sweater with the raglan sleeves. You may even make your own space suit or buy things custom-made.
Why should you care? Personally, I would feel guilty knowing all those people paid good money to see a show if I just got on stage in my street clothes. I’m not preaching screen accuracy here, but some effort! At the very least I’d aim to be on par with the rest of the cast you perform with. You should be part of the reason people want to see a shadow cast and not sit at home watching the film rerun on LOGO.
And what of this “screen accuracy” I speak of? This is individual to every cast – and I’ve seen a lot of casts! Some casts have rules and people in charge of approving costumes to maintain a level of consistency. Other casts may encourage more personalization of the characters – letting the performer’s interpretation of the character dictate their costume and make-up choices. But they both take effort to be pulled off well. You could even take an organic approach –start with accuracy as a base and as your performance develops over time you can adapt your costume accordingly. There is no right or wrong way to build a costume – but there may be expectations or limits on what your cast allows.
Then you have people like me who sell Rocky Horror costumes. But what may surprise you is that I don’t actually endorse buying everything custom made – especially if you’re just getting started. If you do have the resources to buy custom work then be strategic in your purchases. A custom floorshow corset is great, but a sequin tail coat will make a bigger statement (remember, start from the beginning). If you find yourself still dancing in fishnets long after the butterflies of getting on stage have flown, then that’s the time to consider a bigger investment.
It’s all about having fun – and even if costuming isn’t your thing, it’s still going to have a huge effect on your characterization on stage. Huge. Basically what I’m saying is: If you want to own the part, you’re going to have to own the costume.