My "Street Scene" Conscious Budget

The Math:

Total Budget: $14000

Total Spent:  12229.36 + some additional shipping unaccounted for

Conscious Sources: 5507.95

Total percent on Conscious Sources: 45.04%


For the second #MyConciousBudget post, let’s talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to conscious sourcing: SCALE. It’s relatively easy to source from conscious sources on a small scale:

  • Cast and director understand the budget restrictions and manage expectations accordingly

  • Constructing yourself means more control over materials

  • No need to comply with union rules or expectations on new items

  • Time is the biggest one. Sourcing 10 pairs of shoes second hand in 2 months is still a big undertaking but I can do it. Sourcing 50 pairs of shoes in the same time period becomes almost impossible. 

Photo by David Andrews

Photo by David Andrews

The ongoing question I have been asking myself for years is how exactly do we successfully scale more conscious sourcing to bigger, more institutionalized, productions? On Street Scene at the Maryland Opera Studio, I explored some possible solutions:

Sharing Economy:

Photo by David Andrews

Photo by David Andrews

The “sharing economy” needs to transition to performing arts production in a much bigger way. There are now many internet sources to consider, I’ve seen huge success sharing materials in local Facebook groups. One company is getting rid of materials, another is looking for a hard to find item and then reach out to each other. What if there were a way to reach outside your immediate network and find the perfect item anywhere in the country/world? On Street Scene I made use of existing costume sharing economy sources like major rental houses. 

What if there were a way to reach outside your immediate network and find the perfect item anywhere in the country/world?

Reusability:

Designing costumes with their next use in mind is a significant part of scaling conscious costuming. One advantage shows with more resources has is the time and money to make choices that could extend the lives of the costumes.

Photo by David Andrews

Photo by David Andrews

A big component of the Street Scene design was distressing. The characters needed to appear poor, their clothes were old but well cared for. In executing the distressing, the craftsperson and I chose to focus on non toxic forms of distressing like washing and sanding to create a sense of age on new clothes. We also used dry clean removable distressing pigments, particularly those from Patin-a. This meant that we could distress brand new clothes, including built items, and put them back in stock clean to be used on future productions where the distressing may not be a part of the design. 

Small Business Sourcing:

Beyond second hand, which I discussed extensively in my breakdown of Be More Chill, I also made an effort to patronize small businesses. Simply buying zippers from the locally owned fabric store was enough to know that my production was helping my community. 

This mentality goes to costume design and sourcing before the advent of the internet. Small specialty stores, until very recently, were the lifeblood of the costume industry and supporting those types of stores can be an important part of more conscious sourcing. In the above math, I did not count major New York Garment District fabric stores as conscious sources. Though I did use Mood, NY Elegant, and B&J’s for fabrics for the show and tried to only purchase natural fibers, I wanted to focus this evaluation on better sources like deadstock fabrics in Stella Dallas and FabScrap.

Photo by David Andrews

Photo by David Andrews

Scaling this type of design was a gentle reminder that money and labor aren’t everything in conscious sourcing. Having access to more of both did not make sourcing more consciously any easier because of the additional voices in the conversation on sourcing. In considering the scale of future productions, I think transparency with the production team is important. A designer needs buy in on all levels of the team from the rest of the creative team to the shop staff to successfully execute on conscious design.