Playing Dress Up

Top hats and tailcoats? Cowboys and clowns? Or maybe disco divas? Costume designers from local theaters talk about their wardrobes and what they'll do at Purim.

The Israeli Opera

Who: The director of the wardrobe department is Uvi Bossi (above), a Tel Aviv resident. "After studying at the Midrasha College of Art and doing costumes for films, I've been with the opera for 17 years," she says. "One day I read that the Israeli Opera was going to do 'La Traviata,' and because I liked Zeffirelli's film version I proposed myself for the job."

Haya Gayman
Yuval Tebol

What: The storeroom is divided into large spaces. On the entry level are costumes from past productions, below are costumes for "living operas" - those that are still being performed. There are 3,000 items above and 2,000 more below, not counting props ("Of ties alone we have 200" ).

For Purim: "At Purim, people show up here and wander around for hours. Sometimes there are surprises: shy people who have been here five hours but haven't dared, suddenly pull out something extravagant. But I want to emphasize that I don't have costumes, I have attire. You need imagination and an open mind."

Lending policy: "In the past, we held Purim sales and all the costumers joined me for a few exhausting days. We stopped lending two or three years ago, simply because there is no time - the opera is big and there are more productions to work on. People know I am not available for Purim costumes, and overall I try to curb it. It's a punishment, a nightmare."

What costume will you wear this year? "Every year I plan to dress up as a fat lady. I have everything I need for it - buttocks, a tummy - but it hasn't happened yet. I have never worn a costume; I find it hard to do. I put on hats."

Batsheva Dance Company

Who: The head of the costumes and sewing department is Haya Gayman (below), 59, from Ramat Gan. "I started out as a fashion teacher in high school. When the milliner of Habima [Theater] retired, I learned the profession from her and succeeded her. I came to Batsheva three years ago."

What: The storeroom is divided into three spaces. The ground floor contains items for ongoing productions, some of them hanging in the open air, others in movable crates. On the first floor is the "cache," the room that holds "attire from past productions that might be reprised." In the third space, adjacent to the sewing room, are unsuccessful efforts - "sometimes you make six versions before a costume is approved" - and clothing she has collected over the years that the dancers use for personal works. And for Purim.

For Purim: "We don't really have things that anyone would want; it's more like clothing intended for dancing, not for the general public. At most, people who work in our offices ask for a few things, and to them I give."

Lending policy: "The dancers don't take clothes home, but sometimes they forget to return the dance belts that are sewn for them. Sometimes we loan the costumes for 'One Who Knows' to schools that stage the dance."

What costume will you wear this year? "I don't go to Purim parties."

Be'er Sheva Theater

Who: Ahuva Erez (right), 45, from Be'er Sheva, in charge of creating props and costumes, is also director of the wardrobe department. "The women in my family sewed and knitted, and that [tradition] accompanied me from an early age. After 10 years as a social counselor at the Kfar Hayarok youth village, I studied millinery and textile coloring, and worked for the Israeli Opera. I came to Be'er Sheva Theater nine months ago."

What: The storeroom supplies garb both for house productions and for the local drama school and fringe theater, "which sometimes borrow items for their productions," Erez relates. Local businesses also sometimes use items in catalog photos. "There are hundreds of items here, period and modern clothes. Now there's talk of cutting down a little, selling or donating. We have plenty of men's suits, for example. But there are things we will never sell, such as hats. This is like our museum." Maintenance entails "vacuuming wool and fur coats, airing out clothes. Costumes from a play whose run has ended do not enter the storeroom until after laundering or dry cleaning."

For Purim: "Ahead of Purim, there is usually a hysterical surge in requests. There hasn't been a sale here in a long time, and I am now in the process of choosing items we will offer. There are a great many women's coats, robes, men's period coats, exaggerated items that are suitable for Purim and that we see no point in keeping.

Lending policy: "The theater holds a Purim party on the theme of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, so we loan things to the staff, and I try to help with the details. They don't have to pay, but I keep a record. [We lend to] people not with the theater, only if we have known them for a long time."

What costume will you wear this year? "I will wear a miniskirt with spangles, which characterizes the disco period, knee-high boots and a spangled skullcap. Everything will glitter. I do my own sewing, of course."

Habima Theater

Who: The costume designer and chief of the wardrobe workshop is Yelena Kelrich (above), 38, from Kfar Sava. She has been at Habima for three years. "Before that I worked in other theaters and studied set and costume design at Tel Aviv University."

What: While the theater is being renovated, Habima's offices have relocated to a nondescript building in central Tel Aviv. The rehearsal hall is also the wardrobe department. Some of the clothes dangle from hanging devices attached to the walls, so densely packed that it's impossible to pass between them. All is hidden by a black curtain. Other items are packed in crates, "because it's temporary" - four years so far. Clothes that are very dear to employees of the sewing room are kept in two small rooms that abut the main room on either side. An effort is made to keep everything. "I can't throw the things out, they are art objects," Kelrich says. "Each item of clothing is the result of many hours of work, thought and talent, not to mention the talent of the actor who wears it in the play."

For Purim: "Before we moved, we always had Purim sales of fancy costumes, but now we have no place to do the preparatory work in order to decide what to sell and what not. I also believe we should keep things, even if we think now that they will not be used again."

Lending policy: "We sometimes lend to drama schools, but not always and not everything. Ahead of Purim I set aside certain hours for people, mainly theater staff, to come and look around. Two hours, two days a week. People who want to be a cowboy but don't have a hat or a vest - things you won't find at home."

What costume will you wear this year? "I never wear costumes, ever; the shoemaker goes barefoot."

Cameri Theater

Who: The director of the sewing unit is Hadas Avnery (below), who lives in Tel Aviv. "I have been with the Cameri for almost 20 years. I was a theater major at Tel Aviv University, I worked in the Theater for Children and Youth and a few years later I got a job offer here."

What: The extensive wardrobe is divided according to types of clothes and periods, and the drawers contain props from head to foot. "The storeroom was smaller when the theater was on Frishman Street," Avnery says, "but now, again, we don't have enough room, and we are always adding stands" - some of them in the corridor outside the storeroom. There are several thousand items. "I hide the special things. The clothes here are the history of the theater, its memories, including apparel with burlap lining from when the Cameri started, 60 years ago. There are some costumes that everyone remembers, from Hanoch Levin plays or from 'Utz Li Gutz Li,' which had a run of many years. The clothes don't gather dust, because we have constant air-conditioning and a controlled temperature, which prevents damage."

For Purim: "Obviously, people who like to dress up turn to us. The theater holds a Purim party. I can't tell the staff not to come and take clothes because it's their home. Women usually want ball gowns and period dresses. Men like tailcoats. Some people are more open and put together a snazzy costume. People associate theater attire with dressing up, but they are very different things. I don't have Indians or clowns or Lady Gaga. People think that all their fantasies will be fulfilled in a theater wardrobe, but it's just a collection of the plays that were staged here."

Lending policy: "It used to be that an actor who became very attached to a particular costume could buy it, but no longer. We rent mainly to people who are involved in the profession. High-school students doing a matriculation in theater come to us, and ahead of Purim the wardrobe is available to staff, actors and the members of our friends association. They pay a token amount as a donation to a welfare fund." Not everything is for loan. "There are many items here that were worn by actors who are no longer with us, and I find it hard to give them to people."

What costume will you wear this year? "I don't like to put on costumes."

Haifa Municipal Theater

Who: The chief costume designer is Sergei Kashin (above), 50, from Haifa. "I have been a tailor since 1975 and have been with the Haifa Theater since 1992. I studied tailoring and designing period clothing for the theater in Kiev. This is not taught in Israel and the attitude is like in the market: you look for what's cheapest, not the professional things."

What: "This year marks the theater's 50th anniversary; the wardrobe department has been in existence for about 45 years." It contains some 2,000 costumes in an area of about 500 square meters ("I am asked whenever they come to fumigate the place, but we never manage to measure it accurately" ), divided into rooms by subject (robes and dresses, vests and tailcoats, etc. ). "Despite all my battles," Kashin says, "we don't have even elementary things like a ventilator."

On the hangers: He is especially proud of "genuine uniforms of British soldiers from the Mandate period. We bought them for a play at a sale in a Tel Aviv storeroom, and they are the real thing." Not everything is kept. "Clothes that wear out are sold or thrown away. When we had a sale, a hundred people stood here in line. There are sweaters and shirts, old-time tailcoats and separate collars - things you can't buy in a store. People get the item with the name of the actor who wore it and with the smell of a theater. We also have a lot of hats: of Nazis, English colonials and helmets of American soldiers made of real steel. We also keep things that are recycled in different productions; it's like an old car in a garage that's used for spare parts."

For Purim: "Until a few years ago, we would open the storeroom at Purim and sell costumes. But since the woman in charge of the storeroom retired we don't have enough staff for that. There were dismissals here a few years ago as part of an economic recovery plan. In past sales, people wanted mainly uniforms and ball gowns, and the prices ranged from NIS 20 to NIS 350. The most expensive items were Cinderella gowns from a production for children. We didn't sell anything more expensive, only rented [them]."

Lending policy: "Actors are not allowed to take clothes, because the theater invested money in sewing and material - but they can buy them. Sometimes an item of clothing disappears; I have no control over that. This year there was a plan to organize the storeroom and sell off old things, but it got bogged down."

What costume will you wear this year? "Usually I dress up with things from the storeroom. In past years I have been a kangaroo and Napoleon. But this year I think I won't wear a costume."