Circa 1971/2, prior to the theatre having a permanent wardrobe master/mistress, the costuming of plays was overseen by a group of ladies including Kathryn Pochin, Beryl Bonfield, Jill Willson and Yvonne Briggs.
Between them it was decided that the ever increasing stock of costumes could be used to create an income. Thus was born the idea of Costume Hire. Kathryn Pochin then approached Judy Nicol with the notion of running the new venture. In the first year, working approximately 8 hours a week, turnover reached £150. Vera Veasey and Pat Porteous helped out, with Pat then soon becoming the new Wardrobe Mistress. In 1989 Brenda Milton joined Judy as the second employee. In the early 90s I joined them as a volunteer, finally becoming an employee at Brenda’s retirement in 1994. Throughout this time there has been a team of volunteers, including (along with Brenda) the most longstanding, Debbie, and with not quite so many years under her belt, Shirley. Such is the volume of business that there are now 3 employees working 17 hours a week, plus a team of 8 or so volunteers, without whom the business could not function. Volunteers put in anything from an hour or so, whenever they have the time to 4 hours a day, twice weekly.
In the early days Costume Hire’s main ’office’ was in what is now the archive room which was directly above the boiler room in the theatre (the floor was red hot!) The gents suits were in a pokey room, now the back part of the office; stock was also in the room adjacent to the archive room and also in floor to ceiling wardrobes the length of the studio and in floor to ceiling shelving, in what was known as the clubroom.
Around 10 years ago the whole department was moved up the road to its present location. The move was done by a massive team of volunteers in one day. A remarkable feat. Understandably it took several weeks to get organised.
We hire costumes to the general public for parties, fundraising etc, drama societies, both local and further afield, and schools and colleges for productions and examinations. Our income is probably about 50/50 between drama societies and the public.
The stock we hold consists of costumes made or bought for our LDS productions, some of which are ancient, and donations from the public, which are prolific.
Apart from donations and contemporary costumes the range of costumes is obviously determined by our productions. We have a huge amount of Victorian and Edwardian outfits, which as it happens, are also very popular with the public. Mediaeval and 70s follow in terms of popularity. Topping the list at present are pirates, both male and female and also Moulin Rouge themes. Think corsets and heaving bosoms.
We often get strange requests, such as a giant foot, a crab (don’t ask!) and an owl be it either costume or a plastic lookalike. This was in order to frighten away the pigeons which were defecating in a fountain and killing the fish!
Costume Hire is a very busy but fun department and new volunteers are always welcome. There is always something to do whether it be serving customers, tidying, making costumes (if there is time) mending, washing, ironing and coffee making, of course. In order to come along to help one must first become a member of the Leicester Drama Society.