The Post: Costume Supervisor/Designer, The Lyric Theatre Belfast
The Post Holder: Gillian Lennox
A passion for fashion and the creative industries led Gillian Lennox to her role in the theatre.
Give a brief outline of your career to date
Before becoming the costume supervisor at The Lyric Theatre, I worked as a clothing designer for the high street. This is where I gained invaluable practical experience in garment construction, drafting patterns, working with sample garment makers and working to extreme deadlines and costings. This, alongside my creative abilities, gave me a great background for my work today.
As a designer, I got to travel to Paris for the yearly fabric shows and work with the offshore manufacturing companies in Damascus, Romania and Morocco, producing high fashion for retailers ASOS, A-Wear and Dunnes Stores. I worked in fashion for close to 14 years as a designer, but also freelanced in my spare time making costumes, garments and illustrating for others working with the Creative Arts.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Did you go on to further/higher education, if so, what did you study and where?
University Of Ulster – Art College, BA Honours Fashion and Textiles.
How did you get into your area of work?
While working in the fashion industry, I always maintained my own freelance work, making costumes and illustrating. After 14 years in the industry, I decided I wanted to be more hands on and creative and began freelancing as a costume maker at the Lyric Theatre, where I immediately fell in love with the entire vibe of the theatre and costume department. When the position of Costume Supervisor became available, I knew it would be a job I would be at home in.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
Designing, creating with fabrics and illustrating was always my passion, and I was very definite from an early age about what I was going to be!
Were there any essential qualifications or experience needed?
Experience of managing a work room and staff. Meeting tight deadlines, knowledge of garment construction/costume building, sewing, how to draft a pattern and identifying the most suitable fabrics. Handling budgets and working well within a team are also key.
Are there alternative routes into the job?
Yes – internships, work experience and training programmes.
What are the main personal skills your job requires
Organisational skills, managing your time, patience, perseverance and most of all a love of what you are doing.
What does a typical day entail?
As costume supervisor of a very productive theatre, every day is varied. When a production is in the rehearsal stage, the costume department is extremely busy sourcing fabrics, accessories, building costumes and costume fittings with the actors. There is also a lot of forward planning and administrative work as each department has their own budget to manage and freelance staff to book in advance, this is all worked in around production and planning meetings and supporting visiting costume designers and costume hire from our onsite store.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The best aspect is seeing the costume come to life. It starts as an idea based on the narrative of the play and the character that needs portrayed and I love being part of the process of helping it develop from a sketch or drawing into what the audience get to see on stage.
I guess the biggest challenge is the same as the best aspect – you want the costume to be correct for the story being told and making sure everything is ready on time and within budget and still looks fantastic.
Why is what you do important?
Costume is part of the story, it is part of the identity of the characters, the time period they are in – We all use clothing to state who and what we are, our moods, personality and place in the world and this is the same for creating costumes for theatre.
How has Covid-19 impacted your business/role?
As we all know theatres in Northern Ireland suffered from long closures, which meant a lot of our creatives were without work for many months and our audiences were without shows. This resulted in the Lyric team learning to work in a different way, a lot of the stage productions are now also filmed which is a new exciting learning curve for us all. Thankfully with safety measures in place we are now back with an audience which is just wonderful.
What adjustments have you had to make?
At the very start, when we returned to the theatre, actor’s measurements were taken over zoom, which proved rather humorous and a little difficult to get right. We have also made changes to our workroom and my team keep to our bubble along with show staff – our freelance makers now work from home, and we instruct over video calls, WhatsApp and email. So far it has worked well, and we hope we can all work together in the same room again soon.
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
Gain practical experience where you can, keep maintaining your skills – drawing, making, sewing and learn new ones. Be prepared to work on all aspects of the job, from laundry, dressing and hand sewing on endless snap fasteners. Hard work will not go unnoticed. Don’t give up – dreams do not expire.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you like to do?
What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
You got this.
Describe your ideal day off.
A little extra snoozing, getting outdoors, hanging out with my friends. Being pillion on the back of my husband’s Triumph Motorbike and road tripping.
And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?
You need to set aside time to look and see what is available that suits your passion and skills, connect with people in the industry/profession you want to work in and ask for help in gaining work experience in that area.
Gillian is the costume designer for the Lyric Theatre’s current Christmas production of Pinocchio: The Greatest Wonder of the Age which runs until Dec 31.
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