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Behind the curtain of the costume shop for Illinois Shakespeare Festival

MJ Hromek, costume designer for "Twelfth Night", is standing in the costume shop with people working on costumes behind them.
Emily Bollinger
MJ Hromek is the costume designer for Twelfth Night at this summer's Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington.

Illinois Shakespeare Festival’s 2024 season will feature the plays Twelfth Night and Macbeth, along with Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Many costumes need to be crafted for the three different plays.

The costume shop for Illinois Shakespeare Festival has been divided into three groups, one for each production. The only shared element between the three plays is the cast.

Twelfth Night costume designer MJ Hromek said this is their first season working for the festival. Hromek estimated about 56 individual clothing pieces will be used for the production of Twelfth Night, and over 100 total pieces will be used across the three unique shows.

There are several ways the costume shop acquires their costumes.

“We buy some things, we pull some things we already have here in stock, and then we build some things. So it's pretty fun to kind of puzzle-piece everything together to figure out, OK, where can we get what? What's going to work? What can we make?” Hromek said.

Costume design

The costume designer for Macbeth, Nanette Acosta, is also new to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival team. Unlike Hromek, Acosta does not make the costumes.

“I get to just be sort of the decision maker, which is nice," Acosta said.

Costume designer for "MacBeth" Nanette Acosta with her book of costume renderings.
Emily Bollinger
Costume designer for Macbeth Nanette Acosta with her book of costume renderings.

Acosta said she is not reproducing a historical depiction of the original costumes in Macbeth.

“It's a little postmodern feeling,” said Acosta. “I went to Scotland many, many years ago, and remember standing outside of a building that was 500, 600, 700 years old, and a punk rock kid walked out of it. So that sort of feeling of that super modern next to something that's just ancient. So that's kind of more of the aesthetic of what Macbeth is for us.”

Twelfth Night, on the other hand, is pretty historically accurate according to Hromek.

“The only difference is I've taken away a lot of the stuffiness from the 50s. So a lot of the shapes are going to be really similar to what you see in history, but I'm not really worried about petticoats or things like that. Just to sort of help give a feeling of easiness and breeziness for the show,” Hromek said.

“Easiness and breeziness” of costumes will help the actors in the July and August heat.

“We have really great wardrobe crews who work very hard to make everything good and clean and keep things moving,” said Hromek. “So we'll constantly be doing laundry and have constant upkeep before and after all of our shows.”

Putting the costumes together

While the costume team for Twelfth Night was wrapping up its final creations, the Macbeth team had just started.

A person on the "Twelfth Night" costume team is gathering stitches together on a white garment. Another person on the team is using a sewing machine.
Emily Bollinger
The Twelfth Night costume team has been making and modifying costume pieces in preparation for the 2024 season.

Acosta said the most challenging part for her team, Macbeth, has been working within a limited budget.

“You're trying to still keep your design aesthetic together,” said Acosta, "but you're no longer working off your renderings per se because you're not recreating that look exactly. You're trying to get as close as you can with what you can get.”

The most difficult part about creating costumes for Twelfth Night has been putting together a very intricate halter twist wedding dress, according to Hromek.

“That has taken a lot of time and a lot of effort to get right,” said Hromek.

“I really love to see when things start to come together,” Hromek said. “But it's not quite there yet. So it still has a lot of room for growth and potential. I think that's super exciting.”

Twelfth Night, Sense and Sensibility and Macbeth will run through Aug. 3 at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival at Ewing Cultural Center, 48 Sunset Road, Bloomington. Tickets are $27-$48 at illinoisshakes.com and (309) 438-2535.

Emily Bollinger is a digital producer at WGLT, focused on photography, videography and other digital content.