It was no big deal for Darcy Devens of Grafton to dress the huge cast of the “Annie” production in Port Washington—she’s the costumer for hundreds of amateur andprofessional theatrical performers in southeast Wisconsin
Need an “Annie” costume? How about 50 maid’s aprons or a knight dressed in chain mail? Perhaps the Von Trapp family needs attire.
Call Darcy Devens of Grafton. The woman is a costumer extraordinaire. If she doesn’t have what’s needed in her eclectic collection, she can whip it up in a jiffy or knows where to get it.
This is the busiest season for Devens, who is the wardrobe coordinator for Renaissance Theaterworks in Milwaukee and several schools in Ozaukee and Milwaukee counties.
Devens recently coordinated 250 costume changes for Thomas Jefferson Middle School’s production of “Annie” in Port Washington.
On Monday, the “Annie” outfits were taken to North Shore Academy of the Arts in Grafton to outfit two Jr. Stagekids casts for the musical that will open Dec. 2.
She is also providing several Renaissance costumes for the Port Washington High School vocal music department’s madrigal dinner this weekend.
Devens outfitted about 100 students for “Bye, Bye, Birdie” at John Long Middle School in Grafton the first weekend in November. She put together the show’s costumes in two days.
“I knew I had the skirts and pretty much knew where I could pull things from,” Devens said. “I really liked it and it cost them zero dollars. I got great costume help from parents.”
Devens is going through her “Suessical” costumes in preparation for Sussex Hamilton High School’s production in January.
In addition, Devens worked on Renaissance Theaterworks production of “Gorgons,” a Bette Davis and Joan Crawford spoof that ran from Oct. 13 through Nov. 6, and is meeting with costume designers on the next play, “Neat,” which opens Jan. 13.
Devens also completed a bridal gown and dress for the groom’s mother last week.
Last Saturday, she donned her Jolly the Elf costume and walked in the Grafton Christmas parade, collecting letters for Santa. Her son Eric, 24, was the Cookie Monster. Devens intended to make a Fozzy the Bear costume for Eric, but didn’t have time. This was their fourth year in the parade.
Devens also rented her costumes for “Sound of Music” to University School in River Hills for its production.
“At this time of the year, I’m so busy, I don’t have time to put anything away,” Devens said.
Rather than be exhausted, Devens seems to thrive on the chaos and is happiest when she’s elbow deep in fabric and pulling out embellishments from a bin with a hot-glue gun in hand.
Her dining room has been turned into a wardrobe room. Racks are filled with clothes ranging from vintage dresses to poodle skirts. Cartons of costumes and props are stacked several layers high and clothing is draped over mirrors and piled on an ironing board.
It looks disorganized, but Devens knows what’s on the racks and readily pulled a wide leather carpenter’s belt from a bag to complete a knight’s outfit for the madrigal dinner. She added a sheath to the belt to hold a sword.
The knight will wear what looks like chain mail but is really hand-knit boat roping dyed to resemble metal. She pulled back the tunic to show the chain mail was attached to a T-shirt so it would be comfortable for the actor.
“The boys love wearing it, especially when they get the sword,” Devens said.
“You have to recycle and reuse everything. Nothing gets thrown away. Old things are my friends.”
Much of her collection is donated by people who learn she can use their castoffs — from ripped lace tablecloths to prom dresses and men’s suits.
When she discovered she needed to outfit 50 servants in “Annie,” she took an old lace tablecloth and cut it into aprons. The chorus wore black leotards and tops and quick-changed several times.
For a production of “Mulan,” she made kimonos from bed sheets.
Devens has been sewing and doing alterations for years, but it wasn’t until she and her three children moved from Oshkosh to Grafton shortly after her husband died in 1996 that she became involved with outfitting actors.
“My son Adam volunteered me. He said, ‘My mom sews and she would probably like to be involved,’” Devens said.
That was for Grafton High School’s production of “The Sound of Music.” Donna Moore was the costume coordinator who guided volunteers.
“She wanted me to do Captain Von Trapp,” Devens said. “I told her I couldn’t do that, but she insisted. I had so much fun, I said, ‘Sign me up for next year.’”
Devens volunteered for several years, then took over for Moore when she retired and the list of school jobs expanded.
Grafton’s musical director encouraged Devens to pursue a professional career. She interviewed for the job of wardrobe coordinator with the Milwaukee Shakespeare Theater and was hired that afternoon.
“I was tickled to death that I was going to get paid to do what I love, and paid good,” Devens said. “It was so much fun. I was so fortunate to get that job. It’s difficult to break into theater, but once you’re in, you’re in.”
Devens was the wardrobe coordinator for Milwaukee Shakespeare for four years, until it closed in 2008. The knight costumes were made for those productions. Devens then joined Renaissance Theaterworks.
“I’ve worked with costume designers from New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and I had to manage the budget and keep them in check,” she said. “I got to go to New York twice and went to Mood (fabric store) in the garment district. I couldn’t believe I was there.”
But Devens doesn’t want to give up working with schools. She studied to be a teacher, but quit before she got her degree. This is even better, she said.
“Being able to go back and work with all these different levels (of students) is wonderful,” she said. “I love working with the madrigal group. Some of the seniors I’ve known since they were at Thomas Jefferson.
“With the schools, you can throw things together at the last minute. As long as it looks good on stage, no one cares what it looks like inside.
“With professional productions, you’re continually fine-turning things. It has to look as good inside as outside. I can bring that knowledge to the schools. It’s nice doing both.”
In the years of costuming students, her children were never on stage. Adam, who lives in Oshkosh and has three children, was in band, but Eric and her daughter Emma weren’t interested. Emma, a history major at DePaul University in Chicago, is studying in Prague this semester. Eric is the stage manager for John Long productions.
Devens likes to bring her three grandchildren, ages 3 to 6, to rehearsals for school productions.
“They think it’s the coolest thing,” she said. “I’m hoping they’ll show an interest and go up on stage.”
Devens, who has several other part-time jobs to supplement her income, loves her theater role.
“It’s the best job,” she said. “It’s long hours, especially during tech week when it’s 10 to 12-hour days. Sometimes, you’re getting paid a dollar an hour, sometimes it’s pennies per hour, but it’s the best. I really, really love doing it.”