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Following her passion for theatrical costume-making

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When Lesley McKirdy was in high school her mother told her to take a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) subject that would make her happy every day. It turned out the class that made her smile was drama. And while high school is long over for the 25-year-old, drama is still making her grin.

This fall she is heading off to London to start a Master's Degree in costume-making at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA).

“It covers every part of costume and wardrobe,” said Miss McKirdy. “I will learn everything from drafting and draping patterns from scratch, to making, tailoring and adjusting, to management and budgeting for full productions.”

“In my third year as an undergraduate at Bishops University in Montreal, Canada, we did a production of Jane Austen's ‘Pride and Prejudice'. This absolutely fabulous designer came in, Helen Rainbird, costume draper at McGill Opera in Montreal. I fell in love with the costumes, and got to be really good friends with her as well.”

Miss McKirdy decided she wanted to do an independent study course with Ms Rainbird learning how to make and design costumes. Unfortunately it hadn't been offered in six years because they hadn't had a resident designer during that period.

“I spent the next year pretty much organising it for my final term,” she said. “They hadn't offered it at Bishops for a while due to the fact they hadn't had a resident designer in. I went through all the different people and eventually to my dean and he said look, you need to find out who the incoming designer is, and you have to talk to the director and make sure it is okay with them. All that was to take one independent study course.”

With Ms Rainbird she worked on a production of Oliver Twist, the Street Boys Progress where she played the role of the Artful Dodger. “It was more closely based on the novel rather than the musical,” said Miss McKirdy. “So that was amazing. I had a great time. I did a bit of corsetry work in that.”

A corset is a woman's tightly fitting undergarment extending from below the chest to the hips, worn to shape the figure.

Unfortunately, Bishops only had one corset in stock that could not be dyed. So to make the character Nancy's corset took some innovation.

“I put it in on a dress model and taking calico, a rough cotton, pinned it to each panel of the corset, dotted the outline of it, took that off , and did that for every panel. I hadn't really had any experience in sewing before so that was a challenge.”

Ms Rainbird gave her a lot of free rein when choosing the fabrics and also taught her how to take measurements.

“I was also wardrobe mistress for the actual production because she left,” said Miss McKirdy. “I had to make sure everyone had their gloves and hats and everything.”

Partly thanks to Miss McKirdy's efforts, a costume-making and designing course is now offered at Bishops on a regular basis.

After graduation she decided she wanted to do a Master's in costume-making, but took some time off to work and save up. She has been living in London for the last year, getting to know the ropes of the city before starting at RADA. She dreams of one day being Head of Wardrobe on a big production. In this role she would work with producers, budget, and coordinate with incoming designers and costume makers, among other things.

She has done some work with productions in Bermuda including the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society (BMDS) Christmas pantomime of Cinderella and the Gilbert and Sullivan production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

“I took some make-up courses in college, so I was able to help with the make-up for Jesus Christ Superstar,” she said. “I learned how to make bumps and bruises on someone.”

As yet, she does not know which productions she will be working on at RADA, but she does know there are productions every three months and usually several at once as RADA has three stages.

“We will be doing everything from making small pieces for the actors and set dressings, to managing the wardrobe,” she said. “They also make you budget which is really important. We are the ones that have to go out and find the pattern and fabrics and make the pieces. As the year progresses we will make bigger and fuller pieces. Budgeting can be the hardest part.”

Miss McKirdy said sadly there isn't enough theatre to make Bermuda a career base for her.

“I'd love to come back and work on projects with BMDS or Gilbert & Sullivan,” she said. “I'd also like to see the technical side of theatre taught more in schools in Bermuda. A lot of people view theatre as just what they see on the stage and don't realise that there are so many more people involved from start to finish behind the curtain. It's a whole community, and being part of that is one of the things that drew me to theatre.”

Lesley McKirdy, who has been accepted to RADA into the Master's programme studying costume design for the theatre.

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Published September 03, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 02, 2013 at 7:57 pm)

Following her passion for theatrical costume-making

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