Making Costumes with Sophie Woodward

Melbourne Theatre Company

From Victorian 19th-century gowns to military uniforms, Sophie Woodward has worked on costumes for just about everything. This year, as Costume Designer for Melbourne Theatre Company’s Come Rain or Come Shine, she sets her sights on the iconic eras of the late 70s and early 80s.

As part of a secondment during Sophie Woodward’s final year at VCA in 2010, she came to Melbourne Theatre Company to join the creative team of The Drowsy Chaperone. That team included Director Simon Phillips and Set and Costume Designer Dale Ferguson, who in the years following she would come to collaborate with multiple times, particularly Ferguson. ‘That was the first time I worked with Dale and he has been my mentor for years,’ she says. Now, as MTC’s full time Costume Coordinator and the Costume Designer for Come Rain or Come Shine, Woodward finds herself working alongside Phillips and Ferguson once more. ‘It’s kind of funny how things come around,’ she laughs, ‘It makes it comfortable and nice because we already have this ongoing working relationship.’

Woodward’s journey as a set and costume designer started at the end of high school. She had a strong interest in art, history, fashion and storytelling, but knew following just one of those interests wouldn’t cut it. ‘I realised that the more I looked into figuring out what I was wanting to be that theatre itself had all those parts.’

In 2008, Woodward started a Bachelor of Production (Design) at VCA. At first, Woodward was there to become a costume designer. But somewhere along the way she realised she wanted to pursue set design as well. ‘I still remember a lecturer saying to me when I was doing a set design in my third year, “Did you ever think when you entered that this is where you’d end up?” The thing I loved about VCA was that it was so hands-on and there was so much work experience. It opened up this whole world of other possibilities.’

After finishing up VCA and her secondment at MTC on The Drowsy Chaperone, Woodward started freelancing, working on set and costumes for shows at HotHouse Theatre, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, fortyfive downstairs, La Mama Theatre and more. A show that stands out was back home in Albury-Wodgonda for HotHouse Theatre in 2015. Woodward designed the set and costumes for a youth theatre piece called Between the Clouds. It centered on a group of kids living their lives online. This presented a challenge. How do you create a world that only offered little glimpses of each character having different interactions online? The solution, an Escher-inspired set of different-leveled beds. ‘I was inspired by Escher paintings, and we were able to create these kinds of beds in all these different directions.’ Her passion to combine art, history and storytelling already well and truly paying off.

Sophie Woodward. Photo: Harper St Clair.

Now as Costume Coordinator for MTC, Woodward works across all MTC productions. ‘It’s all my favourite things: learning and collaborating. I get to work with the designers for each show and figure out how to take the designs from page to stage.’ It involves a lot of problem-solving and no two shows are the same. ‘We’ll figure out the best way to make that happen, whether it’s buying or making, or using what’s already available, or doing something a little more outside the box.’

Woodward’s creations for Come Rain or Come Shine required meticulous detail. Though set in 2005, the musical also portrays the characters in the late 70s and early 80s. Woodward started her research by looking to those exact eras. ‘I like to make sure my research includes images of real people, in this case I found photos of people in 1978–79 through searching historical university archives.’

Woodward is particularly excited for audiences to experience the nostalgia and comedy at the heart of this story. ‘The comedy feels like the characters are almost laughing at themselves, but they are also very serious.’ A type of humour she is particularly fond of. ‘I’m also excited for the audience to be taken on this story where you’re jumping between times in a very fluid way,’ she says. Which there is no doubt will be aided along by the detail of her costumes.

Banner image: Sophie Woodward with a dress made from specially printed fabric for Come Rain or Come Shine in the MTC costume workshop. Photo: Paige Farrell.