Grand Rapids Ballet Costume Designer Talks Outfitting “Wizard of Oz”

Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company presents "The Wizard of Oz."

When Sadie Rothenberg was tasked with building the costumes for the Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company’s production of the “Wizard of Oz,” she went straight to the book for inspiration.

“The main inspiration was the book illustrations and also the descriptions of the characters in the book,” Rothenberg said. “The original illustrations are wonderful and they are very imaginative, so there was a lot to work with from there.”

Rothenberg said she also wanted to bring a bit of wackiness to the designs. “I was hoping to make it a little bit wackier than the original.”

Rothenberg is pleased with how the main character’s costumes turned out.

“I think I overall I’m very pleased with the main characters, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. I think they came together really well,” she said. “I also enjoyed making the field mice. Their little mouse hats were fun as well. I like how they turned out.”

Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company presents “Wizard of Oz.”

With only a couple of months to bring the costumes to life, Rothenberg worked with the production’s choreographer (Attila Mosolygo) closely to ensure the costumes didn’t just look great but worked with the dancer’s movements.

“I personally like collaborating,” Rothenberg said. “Coming up with the costumes themselves, I do on my own, but then I’ll introduce it to the choreographer or director and say ‘hey, how about this’ and then if they have a good reaction to it, I go in that direction and if they don’t then I try something else. But keeping in touch with them about that is really important to me.”

Rothenberg said working on costumes for children isn’t much different than working on costumes for adults, but she did note parent’s want to see their children’s faces, so often she might forgo a mask on a child’s costume that she would have created for an adult costume.

Rothenberg said the costume design process often starts by looking at what is available from previous shows.

Scarecrow from the Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company's "Wizard of Oz production.
Scarecrow from the Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company’s “Wizard of Oz production.

In the case of the “Wizard of Oz,” several costumes were converted, including pieces of the lion’s costume.

“The tunic is from an old “Nutcracker” production, I think, and it was altered. The hood was built. The hood was fun to make. Animal costumes are always fun.”

She added, “There was a lot from our stock that worked well for some of the groups, like the Emerald City and the munchkins and the winkies. I’m pleased with how we were able to use that stuff.”

Tin Man, from Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company's "Wizard of Oz" production.
Tin Man, from Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company’s “Wizard of Oz” production.

This is the second production Rothenberg has designed costumes for this season. She was the costume designer on the Grand Rapids Ballet’s “A Christmas Carol” production and she built some of the hats for the company’s “Alice in Wonderland” production.

Rothenberg is in the initial stages of drawing up designs for the ballet’s May production of “The Happy Prince, and Other Wilde Tales.”

“We have the choreographer (Penny Saunders) working with the dancers, so I’ve been working with her to finalize some sketches and am starting to pull things from stock and looking at fabrics,” she said.

Wicked Witch from Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company's "Wizard of Oz" production.
Wicked Witch from Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company’s “Wizard of Oz” production.

While it’s too early to describe what the costumes might look like, she said the “process has been very creative.”

“I think the costumes are going to be fun,” she added.

Rothenberg studied costume design at Mason Gross School of the Arts, where she earned a bachelor’s degree.

The “Wizard of Oz” plays this weekend, March 3 & 4, at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Visit the Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company for tickets.

*Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company