Guided Spirit Walks 2019 Behind-the-Scenes: COSTUMES

In 2016, I attended the Guided Spirit Walk production “Keep the Home Fires Burning: Stories and Music from the First World War” and I remember being thoroughly impressed with the costumes. The way that the costuming was able to create an immersive experience for visitors was remarkable.

Working on the 2019 production, I did not know much about the costuming process for a production and I was excited to see how costumes would be chosen in a production that does not stick with one distinct time period. In each scene, we do not explicitly say “Now for a court trial that took place in 1846”, or “this scene is taking place in 1929”, rather, we need context from the dialogue and costuming to tell that story – and we have just the costumers to do this!

Stanlee Hickey joined the Guided Spirt Walks team for the 2018 show. Her extensive experience in the costume field has made her an indispensable member of the Guided Spirit Walks behind-the-scenes team. Stanlee worked with Adrian Petry, our Visitor Services Coordinator, on other local productions and when Adrian invited her to join the production, she was eager because it allowed her to explore some areas that she typically does not get a chance to. She loves certain periods of clothing, including mid 1850s-1940s, which makes the Guided Spirit Walks production an excellent way for her to work within these time periods.

Adrian has been part of Guided Spirit Walks since its inception. Before coming to the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Center, Adrian worked for Bronte Creek Provincial Park where they take costuming very seriously to complement their 1899 farmhouse. Adrian has also been involved in a lot of theatre in varying capacities. He says while he was never the costume person, being an actor, director, or producer has you heavily involved in the costume process. Adrian also was able to pick up tips from our curator and supervisor, Kathleen Powell, who has a lot of experience with re-enacting and costuming earlier periods from the 1790s onward. He stresses that while he was not formally taught or trained, research and experience has gotten him far.

When I spoke to Stanlee about costuming the production, she emphasized the uniqueness of costuming this production. She spoke to me about the difficulty of costuming the early twentieth century from the transition from Victorian to Edwardian. People were still identifying the period from 1910-20 as “Victorian” despite the fact that Queen Victoria had died in 1901, her son Edward had taken charge. We see this in the production with Ina Burgoyne, who, despite the scene taking place in 1914, will be costumed in traditional Victorian mourning. Burgoyne was an older woman who lost her husband seven years prior, so she likely would have worn more traditional garb when her husband passed. These considerations ultimately led Stanlee and Adrian to make the decision to keep her in Victorian mourning.

Victorian Mourning Dress. Credit: National Trust for Scotland

Rachelle Longtin, portraying Ina Burgoyne in this year’s production, is shown here with Stanlee having some fun while trying on the beginning stages of her costume.

In a similar era to Burgoyne, we have Rubena and Vera Becker. Rubena Becker was a famed and talented violinist who performed as a concert violinist in recitals across the Niagara Peninsula, Toronto, and Buffalo Despite only taking place a few years after Ina’s scene, there is a stark difference in the costuming of the two scenes. As Stanlee put it, the Becker’s can be pushed forward in fashion, as the real-life women would be up-to-date on the latest fashion trends as they frequented the opera houses and prominent salt-spring hotels in the region.

When I spoke with Adrian about the uniqueness of costuming a production like Guided Spirit Walks, he mentioned something that I never would have thought of. This is not a live production on a stage wherein the audience, even in the front row, is pretty far from the actors. So, in costuming theatre production, the costumer can add theatre tricks like a Velcro back for quick changes, or different layers- but in the cemetery, costumes need to be very accurate because the audience will be right there, up close and personal! The cemetery stage also means that costume is essentially the only visual cue for people to see the era in which the scene is taking place. There is no back drop, stage, props, etc., so the costumes are crucial to give the scene context. 

Adrian predicts that the audience will enjoy seeing the contrast of the time period costumes: William Pay from 1837 will be dressed in farmers’ clothing that was not nearly as formal as James Bowen in the 1860s, who was a Confederate officer living in St. Catharines. Dr. Theophilus Mack, who is an educated doctor in the 1840s, will be very well dressed. The production also features Roberta McDonald, who is reacting to a tragic event in the moment. This scene takes place in in 1929, which is very different from 10 years prior where Burgoyne and the Becker’s are. Female fashion has changed drastically compared to male fashion in the last 200 years, and I think that will be very clear in this year’s Guided Spirit Walks production.

We are so lucky to have such talented costumers in Stanlee and Adrian. Don’t miss this year’s production “Guided Spirit Walks Glimpses of St. Catharines: Stories of the Famous and Infamous” and see their work up close and personal.

Guided Spirit Walks run September 6th, 7th, 13th, and 14th at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Victoria Lawn Cemetery. Tickets are on sale for $12.00/person. For more information visit our website.

Amanda Balyk is the Museum’s summer Program Assistant and is completing her M.A. in History at Brock University.

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