A Word About Costume Deadlines & Shop Workload

Costume deadlines are a complex combination of design and pre-planning steps so that resources can be adequately allocated to your project, organizational steps completed so the shop can work on your show, initial and final financial reports, construction deadlines designed to move your project smoothly toward dress rehearsals, and wardrobe and technical needs.

The Design faculty creates design progress deadlines so that students may have adequate time to design their shows, and so that information is gathered and approved in time for production shop schedules.   The costume shop manager creates in-shop production deadlines to accomplish two goals:  allocate adequate time and money to your project, and balance your work weeks with other shows that may be in the shop at the same time.

Shop Workload and Scheduling

In professional practice it is common for shops to work on overlapping projects.  The skills you learn here at UCI will serve you well when you find your show double or triple booked in a professional shop.  It is smart to maximize the time a shop can work on your project by sending items to outside vendors early, coordinating early construction steps such as fabric dying, using labor time well, and eliminating waste or waiting.

You must stay one step ahead of the shop as it works, so no work comes to a screeching halt.  Anticipating shop needs is one way to stay ahead of the curve.  Another important skill is constant communication.  If something in your show will take longer than usual or arrive later than anticipated, let the shop manager, shop foreman, draper and crafts person know of the extenuating circumstances.  Make a new plan together to handle the ever- shifting elements of a show in progress.

In a profession ruled by public deadlines, such as ours, it is easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated.  You may think a costume shop is not working on your show as much as they should.  One industrial researcher found that every resident work unit can spend as much as 15-20% of its time on routine duties you can’t easily see or assess.  This time–as much as 8 hours per week—is used for tasks such as attending staff or department meetings, changing the water in the water cooler, picking up items at vendors, looking at supply catalogues to make an order, attending training workshops, doing research on how to accomplish new tasks (such as drafting a new pattern), making samples to see if a technique works, filling out forms for human resources, filing reports with their bosses justifying expenses, maintaining equipment or fiddling with finicky equipment, cleaning the work area, looking for something in storage, answering questions from people in other departments who have to know something right now, repairing an item in a current show onstage, or getting information on the phone.

Add to these hidden tasks an overlap of shows, and it’s easy to see a shop can soon be torn in several directions at once.  The best approach for a designer is constant surveillance of your work load at all times.  If you have concerns or you fear the work speed isn’t sufficient to finish your show, talk confidentially to the shop manager or faculty mentor.

As a designer you will work with a number of different shops, and you must learn to quickly assess each shop’s strengths and weaknesses.  If you are working with an inexperienced, disorganized or severely understaffed shop, you may have to alter your expectations or find creative ways to accomplish your goals without compromising your show.  Remember, no one loves your show as much as you do.

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