THE HUNDRED DRESSES - Finding Wanda's Style

Creating 100 renderings – original designs, of depression-era dresses may sound daunting but Pam Rehhberg, costume designer for First Stage’s production of THE HUNDRED DRESSES was up for the task.

With over 21 years teaching design at UWM and having been involved in more First Stage productions that you can count on one (wait, make that two!) hands, Pam embarked on a process she ultimately described as, “Finding Wanda’s Style.”

Wanda Petronski – a polish immigrant has just moved to a small town in America in 1938. She is shy, soft-spoken and 10 years old, and has only one dress, or does she? Wearing the same drab dress day after day, she becomes the subject of ridicule after claiming to have 100 beautiful dresses in her closet at home. The dresses of her imagination.

Pam sought inspiration- not only to costume the entire cast circa 1938, but to create Wanda’s dream dresses. She consulted period photographs and used actual commercial patterns that were used to make dresses in the 30’s. She also thought a lot about the differences between “play clothes” today and what kids wore in the depression era. There were no jeans or pants for girls – if you wanted to play it was in a dress.

One challenge was how to make the two lead characters, Wanda and Maddie, stand out from the rest of the cast– basically this meant even more designs for Pam. Another challenge was to make sure the dresses, all 100 of them, became part of the overall visual effect of the play. This took a lot of collaboration with scenic designer, Steve Barnes. At one point between 40-50 large scale renderings were laid out in the commons area of MYAC and the two rearranged them for the greatest visual impact.

When asked what her favorite historical period was to create designs for Pam said, “It’s more about who you’re working with, not necessarily what you’re working on. That’s what matters.”
As for how 100 Dresses will be brought to life onstage? You’ll just have to wait and see!

THE HUNDRED DRESSES, March 25 – April 17, 2011 at the Todd Wehr Theater, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
For ticket information, click here.

To view more of Pam’s costume renderings, click here.

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