Dressing the part: Jim Beaudoin is costume guru at PPT

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
A week before opening night of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” volunteer costume-maker Jim Beaudoin walked in to the Meroney Theatre with two trash bags.
Inside were costumes he’d made the night before after fitting three actresses at rehearsal. He still had some sewing to do, but the costumes would soon be hung in a line of garments Beaudoin had already made — or “built,” in theater parlance — for the show. There are 30 people in the cast, and most characters require two or three costumes.
“Roxane has four,” he says. “She was supposed to have five, but it’s going to be four.”
“Cyrano” is set in the 17th century, and the costumes must fit the time period. Building period costumes from scratch is challenging, especially for such a big show.
Beaudoin isn’t keeping track of exactly how many costumes he’s made for “Cyrano”; he isn’t the kind of guy who’s always doing the math and definitely not the kind of guy to toot his own horn — not that he’d have time, with all those costumes to make.
Until this season, it had been years since Piedmont Players had built a whole set of period costumes. The last such show was “1776,” says PPT director Reid Leonard, who is thrilled that an experienced and energetic costumer of Beaudoin’s caliber fell into their laps like some deus ex machina.
“You know that scene in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ where suddenly the angel appears?” Leonard asks. “It’s like that.”
Costumes for modern shows are easy, Beaudoin says. For those, all that’s required is often simple alterations of garments already hanging in the vast Piedmont Players prop room.
For period clothing, Beaudoin does some research before sitting down to design. There’s a lot of improvisation involved, he says. With the eye of an artist, he wants to create costumes that go along with the mood of the scene they’ll appear in.
Beaudoin seems relaxed and calm for someone with a whole show riding on him, but he admits to feeling some pressure.
“It’s sort of daunting … a little overwhelming,” he says.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get this done or not. But everybody will be dressed in something.”
Beaudoin has been enjoying Piedmont Players productions since he moved here from Richmond, Va. a few years back.
At some level, he’s watching them with the eye of a costume-designer, since that’s his background.
After noticing the deficiencies of the rented costumes in one particular show, he couldn’t help himself.
It was a period piece, and “the women were running around with no petticoats,” he said, as if no further explanation were needed.
And so with no fanfare, Beaudoin stepped up to offer his services. His first show was “Nunsense.”
“I can help,” he told Leonard.
At the time, Leonard had no idea what an understatement that was.
When the rental costumes for the next show, “The Three Musketeers,” turned out to be a disappointment, Beaudoin asked if Leonard would mind if he made some costumes himself.
And it’s snowballed, probably beyond what Beaudoin expected.
There was the fat suit he made for “Hairspray,” the multiple glitzy costumes for “Dream Girls.” Because of all the big production numbers in that show, he needed “three of everything,” he says.
He gets some satisfaction out of knowing that many of the costumes he’s making for shows will go into the prop room and be used over and over again.
When he’s not designing and building costumes, he’s out looking for garments at Goodwill, The Salvation Army and Value Village. For “The Farnsworth Invention,” for example, Beaudoin bought men’s suits, since, as he notes, it’s easier and cheaper to buy used ones than to make them from scratch.
Beaudoin studied costume design in college and has studied clothing restoration in England.
When he lived in Savannah, he did custom dress-making for a living. In his spare time, he shared his talents with the two major Savannah community theaters. After a while, he caught the acting bug and began to appear on stage. He worked his way up to several lead roles, including the starring role in “On Golden Pond,” for which he won an award. His last role was in “Educating Rita,” which was fun, he says, because he got to play a drunk.
After 18 years in Savannah, he moved to Richmond, where he was a manager at Hancock Fabrics. He didn’t get involved in theater there, since most of it is professional, he notes.
After retiring, he moved to Salisbury. Beaudoin believes Salisbury has some of the same kind of charm Savannah does, including “fabulous” community theater, he says.
When he got involved with PPT, he remembered what he’d been missing.
“I enjoy being back,” he says. “I didn’t realize how much I missed it.”
Beaudoin enjoys his new role with Piedmont Players but admits that he’d love to have some help. He’s looking for people who have some sewing skills, of course, but volunteers who can go up to the prop room and pull costumes would also be a great help, he says.
If you’d like to help Jim Beaudoin with costuming for upcoming productions (whether you have sewing skills or not), call Piedmont Players Theatre at 704-633-5471.