is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Studio Players' The 39 Steps' Designer David Senatore's Eye For Costuming Keeps Him In Demand

 “I’ve heard many, many times people say things like – 'Oh, it's just clothes, how hard can it be?'  But there’s so much more to it than that.  What we choose to wear is a very personal decision – it’s how we decide to present ourselves to the world; and that decision is no different for characters on a stage. --David Senatore

As one of the most versatile, hilarious artists in local theatre, actor, singer, and costume designer David Senatore has left his crafty stamphad his hand in at every local theatrical company's stagings of the last few years.  His current challenge, however, presents quite the herculean task.  He is costuming over 100 characters in one show, the staged version of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, which opens soon at the Carriage House for Studio Players.

Courtney Waltermire has her costume
adjusted by Senatore for
Fantastical Theatrical's
Star Wars parody, 

For his next undertaking, Studio Players' The 39 Steps, Senatore found he had his work cut out for him, and confesses. "the biggest challenge in The 39 Steps is this: you have four actors in the show – Tim Hull, Sharon Sikorski, Randy Hall and Graeme Hart - playing over 150 characters.  Randy and Graeme often are playing more than one character in the same scene!  Several of the costume changes are so fast, I had to study and research the tricks professional quick-change artists use in their acts.  The mental discipline it took for me to break down every costume piece every character needed, and then figure out how to make the transition work quickly and effortlessly for the actors was THE biggest challenge.   The actors are now starting to practice in costume and they are just BRILLIANT – they totally use the garments to their maximum potential to create this array of characters.  They’re amazing to watch!"  

Timothy Hull is one of 4 actors who portray over
100 characters in The 39 Steps

For The 39 Steps, Ross Carter asked me in October of 2010 if I would consider designing the show, but I couldn’t really do anything until it was certain Studio Players was going to produce the show – so the real bulk of the costuming work – like scene and character breakdown, costume design, quick change order and so on – didn’t take place until early June- which was still three months earlier than when most costume work usually happens.  Of course, Ross had this show in his back pocket for years, so he knew what he wanted the show to look like and came to the first pre-production meeting with a complete character breakdown, which made my job SO much easier.  It’s great when directors are so prepared!  It allows me to start finding things right away – and there was a lot to find for this show: not just period dresses and suits, but also wigs, hats, undergarments, shoes, jewelry and hosiery!  It was so much fun."

"Honestly, this is probably one of the largest shows Studio Players has mounted, and not just costume wise. There’s a lot of demanding set pieces, props, sound and visual effects too!  The entire board has been so supportive. Scott Turner is the producer and he’s doing an amazing job of keeping it all on track, and the board members have pitched in with a lot of the specialty construction needs this show requires. I think the audience will be utterly amazed at how MANY people are working behind the scenes in this show to create theater magic.  Its truly a collaborative process."
The 39 Steps' Sharon Sikorsi,
one of the area's
best actors who Senatore has
costumed more than once ...
last in Belle Brezing for
Actors Guild of Lexinton

His recent costuming duties have also included work for Actors Guild of Lexington and BCTC. "I know how personal creating a production can be for directors, and it means a lot to me when a director or designer whom I respect greatly asks me to work on their show.   Means even more when they ask me back!  This past year, I’ve been lucky enough to have costumed Belle Brezing  and  A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant for Actor’s Guild, Kitchen Witches and Jungle Fun Room for Studio Players and The Rocky Horror Show for BCTC.  I’ve had to pass on two really awesome projects lately, which I hated doing, due to time restraints.  I wish I could afford to do nothing BUT costume, but alas, that is not the case -- until I hit the lottery.

Fantastical Theatricals' drama mama, Kathy Hobbs
sings the Senatore's praises as an actor,
director and friend.  He has been a part of her
murder mystery dinner theatre mischief for years.
Senatore got his start in costuming as an apprentice "at the Roxy Theatre in Clarksville, TN when I was 13, but I owe a lot to Vivian Snipes at Lexington Children’s Theater.  When we moved to Lexington in 1989, LCT didn’t really have a program in place for kids interested in the technical side of theatre like they do now, but Miss Vivian let me visit in the costume shop with her, help out and just absorb it all in.  She allowed me to costume some of the workshops and shows when I was still in high school, and brought me back when I was in college to design one of their first Discovery series. She taught me SO MUCH, and those experiences are what propelled me to continue advancing my costuming education through out college and then professionally upon graduating."

As for his role as a designer, he enthusiastically embraces the job.  "I love costuming!  You get to learn something new with every show.  And I’ve built some pretty odd costume stuff lately – a brain, a stripper mummy, a turtle and Scarlet O’Hara just to name a few!  I think, though, that it is easy to take costumes for granted.  It’s the one design process you really can’t start until the show is cast, so you generally only have three or four weeks to get everything done – the measuring, the design, the building, shopping, fittings and then the little details that just make the difference.  I’ve heard many, many times people say things like – “Oh, it's just clothes, how hard can it be?”  But there’s so much more to it than that.  What we choose to wear is a very personal decision – it’s how we decide to present ourselves to the world.  And that decision is no different for characters on a stage.  A good costumer needs to be able to get into the mind set of the characters, figure out who they are, and then be able to adjust that vision if necessary to accommodate what the actor brings to the role – it is after all their character to create.  I love the collaborative process of working with an actor to ensure their costume is right for their character, yet still comfortable enough for them to perform in as an actor.  I’ve been very blessed to work with some of THE most talented actors and directors this town has to offer – and for that I’m very grateful."

Lastly, do you have a secret talent you will share with my readers?  I am more musically inclined than I let on.  I can play the sax, trumpet, trombone, French horn, oboe and the accordion.  I’ve even sung on stage with a professional New York Metropolitan Opera Tenor.  But don’t tell anyone – I don’t want people to think I’m bragging or anything.  :-)

Well, David didn't want to brag on himself, so I asked
a few of his theatre friends to give me their thoughts on 
Mr. Senatore.  
Allie Darden can next be seen playing 
Veronica in God of Carnage ... 
with On The Verge theatre,  
directed by Ave Lawyer.  
Performed at the DAC, 
opens mid-November.

According to the fabulously talented Allie Darden, he is a joy to work with.
 "David Senatore is amazing. He is a pro at all that he touches: costuming, directing, make-up, 
acting...basically he is a perfectionist and does not tolerate anything other than the best, which is why I love him so."

Director Ross Carter tells me, "The two words that most aptly describe the play are 'funny' and 'endearing.'  Audiences laugh from start to finish, and they love the play. It's no coincidence that the official web site for the London production is

Speaking of the London production, The 39 Steps recently became the West End's longest running comedy.
Director Ross Carter

The play is based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie. Featuring that plot device so beloved by the British--the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances--the film presents the story of Richard Hannay as the only man in England who can save the country's air defenses. Dodging murderous thugs, escaping from a moving train, leaping from a railway bridge, roving wearily across the Scottish moors, running from police and hounds and aircraft, Hannay identifies the mastermind and races back to London to save the nation. But will he make it in time? I say! Good show!"

Now we have Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps adapted as a play...but can a small community theatre do justice to the film with its sweeping panoramas and huge array of characters? Really, can you replicate on stage an escape from a moving train?

According to Carter, the answer is, Oh yes. Quite. And with only 4 actors playing all the roles.

How many roles? "To be quite honest we haven't counted them all. Someone counted 139. That seems on the high side to me. I'm pretty sure there are less than a hundred."

"One might be tempted to think that the play is a simple parody of the movie. I assure you the play is an homage to the movie, and indeed a celebration of the magic of theatre. The play's cast and crew do their utmost to present the entire movie within the limited resources of a small community stage. To do that, they work incredibly hard. I think that is the principal reason audiences love the play: they find themselves rooting for the actors, applauding their ingenuity and hoping no one collapses from exhaustion before the final curtain."

A typical play at Studio Players takes six weeks of production. This play took eleven weeks. I estimate the combined efforts of cast, crew, and production staff total about 25 to 30 hours of effort for every minute of running time. Carter echoes Senatore's thoughts about the grand complexity of the show.  "I for one have never been involved in a production on this scale. I don't think any of us has. To give an example, we had to assemble over 100 audio files of background music and effects. The actors of course had to learn when each audio sound plays and how long it lasts."

"Then there the costumes. Again, I haven't stopped to count them all. I don't know how many costumes we have. A lot. And most of them have to be rigged for quick changes. It's not every day that an actor in a police uniform needs to turn into 3 bagpipers with 5 seconds."

Carter explains it is no exaggeration to say that this play stretches the Studio Players stage to its limits. "We had to design and build two theatre boxes on the stage. To replicate a music hall stage, we installed a row of footlights. To give the effect of train movement, we built a 10-foot long bar of lights that flash in a rotating pattern. Because the theatre has no fly space, we had to rig a system of pulleys and hooks to deploy the light bar and rehearse the running crew until they can rig and unrig it in a few seconds. All this for an effect that lasts barely two minutes."

Also, there were set-building challenges and logistics to handle.  "The Studio Players stage has no wings. All the set pieces need to stow in a petite backstage space. Somehow we managed to engineer room for a rolling door, a rolling window, a bed, a table, 5 chairs, a fireplace, ladders, steamer trunks, a fence, a lectern, signs, banners, a hotel lobby, scores of props, and a ton of costumes. (Plus many other items I will not name, lest we spoil the surprise). We hung pulleys from the backstage ceiling so we can move items up out of the way."

He laughs, "After working this play, I think our running crew would qualify for submarine duty."

"Despite all that work, The 39 Steps is not about the props and effects. It's about the comedy. Let me assure you, this is a very funny play. As I often say, I never met anyone who didn't like to laugh. If you see this play, you will laugh. A lot. The comedy is relentless. Everything from the opening announcements to the final bow has been tweaked and honed to be funny."

He is quick to give credit to his cast and crew. "Most actors will tell you that comedy is difficult. Imagine the pressure of jumping swiftly from one character to another (sometimes changing character and costume on every line), moving set pieces (the audience never sees the running crew), syncing your actions with the audio score, deftly managing hundreds of lines--all while executing the subtleties and precise timing of high comedy. This plays demands a virtuoso performance from every actor, every night. (To say nothing of the backstage crew, whose deft performance no one sees)."
Graeme Hart & Randy Hall as 2 thugs

Carter believesThe 39 Steps succeeds as a play "only with actors of extraordinary skill. And what actors we have! I have been amazed to watch them night after night jumping into their roles with zeal and energy. Every night they bring something new. When a particular bit requires precise coordination, they patiently work it over and over until they get it just right. They dig for meaning and comic potential in every line, every movement. They work tirelessly to raise each performance to a new level. Every night they walk into the theatre laughing, and they are still laughing, and tired, when they leave. I love them all. I wish I could tell you all the things they do...but of course you will want to see for yourself."

The 39 Steps runs four weekends. 

Tickets are on sale now, 
and are expected to sell out every show.

Studio Players
The 39 Steps

Adapted by Patrick Barlow
From the novel by John Buchan,
from the movie of Alfred Hitchcock
Licensed by ITV Global Entertainment Limited
An original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon

Directed by Ross Carter


Richard Hannay
Tim Hull
Sharon Sikorski
Clown #1
Randy Hall
Clown #2

Sharon Sikorski
Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python, and you have The 39 Steps. The four-member cast plays over 150 characters in this fast-paced whodunit with non-stop laughs and some good old-fashioned romance!
Production Dates

September 15-18, 23-25, September 30-October 1-2, 7-9, 2011

Opening night, Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8:00pm
Sunday matinee performances begin at 2:30 pm

The Carriage House Theatre is located at 154 W. Bell Ct.
For driving directions, click here.

Ticket Prices

All performances$17.00
(plus applicable fees)

Graeme Hart as the Milkman
All major credit cards at the box office, as well as cash or check.

NOTE: Please arrive at the carriage house 15 minutes before the performance time. In the event that the performance is sold out, Studio Players reserves the right to sell unclaimed reserved seats at that time.


For reservations please call (859) 225-0370 or purchase tickets online


The 39 Steps opens next week at the Carriage House -- see you there!
peace, y'all,

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