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STC Women in Charge: Denise Aitchison


This past fall, more than 50 Washington, D.C. professional theatres participated in the momentous Women’s Voices Theater Festival, showcasing more than 50 world premiere plays by women. In the spirit of the festival, Shakespeare Theatre Company started a blog series to highlight some of its Women in Charge.  As part of STC’s efforts to continue the mission of this season’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival, we would like to keep producing our STC Women in Charge blog series.

Theatre is a collaborative art, and a successful production involves stage managers, scenic designers, administrators and grant writers, costume designers, prop masters, trainers, and so many more. That is why we are taking this opportunity to highlight some of our women behind-the-scenes who keep our theatre, and the art form, alive.

During the 2015–2016 season, we will be publishing interviews with some of the women you will not see onstage, but who keep STC running smoothly. We’re proud to put these wonderful women in the spotlight!

We hope you enjoy this next installment, featuring STC Draper Denise Aitchison.

 An Interview with Denise Aitchison

Denise at work

Denise Aitchison at work

How long have you been working in the arts?
I started in high school as an usher at a summer stock musical theatre. In my college summers, I first worked as a dresser at a theme park show that had a lot of wicked quick changes. For the remaining three summers and several more, I worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Arena Stage and the Denver Center came next, and I have worked at STC for almost 27 years. (That’s a total of 33 years, 31 spent building costumes.)

What’s your “dream show” to help make happen? Why?
Henry VIII would be my dream show for several reasons. It is the only play in Shakespeare’s canon on which I have not worked. Of course, I would want it to be a lavish production with beautiful, historically accurate costumes! Catherine of Aragon is a nice woman’s part, and I have only seen it performed once by the RSC.  I also know that I’ll most likely have to work on it somewhere other than STC. Of course, both Cyrano and The Government Inspector were on my “dream list,” and we’ve produced those, so I remain optimistic.

Tell us about a time you “saved the day”:
I honestly can’t remember a time where I “saved the day”—not in a big way, at least. I can remember hundreds of ways we all help each other in the Costume Shop, whether it’s lending a hand if someone is behind or has had a lot of work develop, or all sewing on that last huge piece that takes six hands to get to the stage, or stitching a quilt for props, or making huge silk puppets for an overwhelmed puppeteer. “Many hands make light work” is a statement we make true in the shop all of the time.

Can you explain your role in the theatre world, for those who might not know?
As a costume draper, my job is to be responsible for the completion of a portion of a show’s costumes. I, as well as the other two STC drapers, am given the Costume Designer’s sketches or renderings for a show. I then drape or draft the patterns, fit the actors, plan out the construction of the garments, and teach or supervise my team’s building of those garments. I coordinate with the Costume Director, Designer, Design Assistant, Craftsperson, Stage Manager, Actor/Actress, and occasionally a Properties Artisan or the Director. I would say that my job is more organizational and instructional than artistic, but it is the artistic part that is the most important—seeing that the Costume Designer’s vision is realized in combination with what the Actor/Actress needs in order to perform on stage.



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