A Many-Splendored Costume Selection

The cavernous warehouse below Diamond Head Theatre, home to decades of costume innovation, is strung with row upon row of calico, plaid, swirled, dotted, glittery, bright and fantastical clothing labeled by type: overcoats, ties, dresses, suits, military. And there are eras: Roman, Medieval, Victorian, 1920s, ’60s, ’80s. It goes on, box upon box of shoes, hats, wigs, fans, belts, props and theatrical treasures marked with the titles of previous shows. To enter the hallowed niche of dress-up galore is dizzying, distracting and exciting all at once. With six shows per season and 40 to 50 performers in any given show, wearing three to 10 changes of clothing each, well …


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Shop volunteer Brenda Chee, in a ‘La Cage aux Folles’ outfit, makes adjustments to a female pirate costume

“We have thousands of costumes,” says Karen Wolfe, the theater’s costume director and clearly a long-time denizen of the place, given the finesse with which she navigates the packed, overhanging aisles and knows precisely what’s where. “Since we’re almost 100 years old, we have a huge stock – the largest in the state. At Halloween, we (have the capability of) renting out 500 to 600 (outfits).”

Wolfe’s costume rental list suggests more than 50 characters from Cleopatra and Cyclops to Medusa and Pregnant Nun, as well as couples possibilities, be it Old Time Bathers or Doctor & Sexy Nurse. Have other ideas? Wolfe and her team make it happen. Would-be renters stand at the entrance and the costume folks do the rummaging and fitting.

“A lot of times people say ‘Dress me.'” notes Wolfe. “We can put pirates together, maybe grab pieces from other costumes, and we make it fit – tall, short, large, small.”

Many of the shop’s customers are theater subscribers. They come looking to rent a particular fabulous outfit they’ve seen an actor wearing onstage.

“We get tourists too,” says Wolfe. “Our Japanese (customers) are really cute because they’re all excited, but they have no idea what any of this is because they don’t celebrate Halloween in Japan.”

You can come with a gaggle of friends who all want to be past-century barmaids and each will be given a unique look, unless of course you want to be matching, in which case, they can do that too.

Patrons include local and Neighbor Island theaters, film studios, nonprofits or offices holding themed events, birthday parties, and sometimes out-of-state calls come in from individuals who noticed some particularly appealing dress or prop on the website (diamondheadtheatre.com, 733-0277, ext. 2). The shop is open for rentals year round, nine hours per week, but Oct. 21-Nov. 1 it offers extended hours Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prices range from something simple for $15 to an elaborate getup for $100.

“I’m very protective of what goes out the door because I don’t have the budget to replace things or the time to rebuild them,” says Wolfe, who has engineered a huge chunk of the inventory during her 29 years with the theater, after starting out as a teen performer on the stage in 1968. But she doesn’t run the shop alone. It’s a volunteer effort and they keep busy, so on entry, expect the pace of a bustling workshop.

“I tell people, ‘Come with your imagination and a credit card,'” laughs Diamond Head’s costumer extraordinaire. Lucky are those who get Wolfe when she has time to be creative.

Kennedy Theatre Turns 50

Surf back half a century to Dec. 4, 1963, and you’ll see kabuki play Benten the Thief, UH Manoa Kennedy Theatre’s very first production,

being staged. Over the decades, witness Bette Midler, Timothy Dalton and acclaimed Hawaii actor-professors Terence Knapp, Joyce Maltby and the late Glenn Cannon all leaving their historical footprints on the stage (see archival footage at hawaii.edu/kennedy/50). In honor of the jubilee, a video retrospective will play before each performance through this season. For now, relish this photographic tribute.