Costume Shop Director Joe Salasovich is pleased as punch with his set-up at Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater, which the company moved into last Monday—-he’s got more space, he’s no longer hopping between locations in Northern Virginia and U Street NW, he says he’ll soon be adding three employees. But given the resources, it’s still doubtful he’d upgrade Arena’s costume-catalog system. That’s because he’s it.
“Gem of the Ocean, Christmas Carol, Importance of Being Earnest, Legacy of Light,” he spits out, flipping through the most opulent-looking rack in Arena’s costume-storage room. “This was Guinevere from Camelot. This was Queen Elizabeth from Passion Play. It was actually worn by a man.”
Some costumes have tags. Many don’t. But Salasovich, who is entering his 11th season at Arena, can source almost any costume in the room with a glance—-and tell you who used it. “Michael Emerson wore this and then ended up on Lost,” he says. “Bob Prosky wore this…Someone found a label that was Yeardley Smith, who is Lisa Simpson’s voice.”
For Salasovich’s shop, moving into the $125 million Mead Center—-which Arena began constructing in 2008 and which opens officially in October—-means several tangible benefits. For starters, most of the shop is now in one large room—-it used to be split between two levels of Arena’s original Southwest structure, and over the last two years was based at 14th and T streets NW, while props were in Shirlington, Va., and the administrative office was in Crystal City. Just being able to walk downstairs and see a set is a huge boon, Salasovich says.
On this afternoon, Salasovich has boots on his mind—-cowboy boots, for Arena’s season-opening production of Oklahoma! He says that at least visually, Arena’s production will be in line with its 1906 frontier setting. “The trick with dance shoes is to try to make them real as possible,” he says. “We’re going to try to figure out what we can get away with but still make the noise on the floor and be percussive.”
The new digs means plenty of storage space—-Salasovich hasn’t taken a shoe count yet, but says that last season’s production of Sophisticated Ladies at the Lincoln Theatre added about 150 pairs. In the main costume-shop space, I count 20 categories of glasses.
The costume shop will be adding staff, Salasovich says, because of the addition of the Kogod Cradle theater—-a 200-capacity studio-style theater that shares the Mead Center’s glass atrium with Arena’s already existing theaters, the Fichandler and the Kreeger. (The overall staff, which is about 100, won’t grow by much in the first year.)
Salasovich says that despite his costume shop’s considerable resources—-it has a staff of about a dozen, plus a handful of fellows—-it still borrows from other costume shops in the area, and lends out items. If Salasovich needs to secure, say, doublets, he can go to the Shakespeare Theatre Company. “People who come to D.C. don’t realize how big the costume mafia is,” he says. “The costume mafia is huge.”
Photos by Darrow Montgomery