Transforming a cast: Albert Lea Community Theatre’s costume warehouse has thousands of items to pull from for productions

Published 12:52 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2023

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Tucked under the National Vitality Center on South Broadway in downtown Albert Lea is a warehouse full of costumes that have brought dozens of Albert Lea Community Theatre plays to life.

Walk through the basement and there are racks filled with every type of costume imaginable — whether it’s military or police uniforms, medical clothing, ballgowns, outfits from other eras, choir robes, suits or anything in between.

In addition to the numerous racks of clothing, there is an area for shoes, including cowboy boots, loafers, high-heeled shoes — even ruby red slippers from Dorothy one year with “Wizard of Oz” — and don’t forget the hats, the gloves and the jewelry.

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Elizabeth Harty, who helps prepare costumes for ACT productions, said the organization had been using the space for about seven years and is looking for a new location to house their costumes, which date back to the 1960s when the theater group began.

Harty said she started helping with costumes for the theater group when she moved back to town. She previously worked with costumes for a company in the Twin Cities for a year and a half and also has a history of being in some plays herself, including “The King and I” and “Anything Goes” back in the 1970s and “Annie” more recently in the last 10 years.

Rosalie Truax said she has been involved with preparing costumes with ACT for about 20 to 25 years.

The women said with each production their job begins after they find out what the play is that the theater group will perform. Once they find that out, they start by talking to the director to find out his or her vision.

Next, they come to the costume warehouse and begin to go through the pieces and pull shirts, pants and dresses related to the theme.

They find out how many people will be in the play, as well as how many costume changes each will have and how fast those changes need to be made.

They take the measurements for each actor and have them try on pieces to determine whether a piece fits or it will need to be altered. And if they can’t find anything that will work for a particular actor, they will reach out to other theaters to rent a costume or they turn to the internet to order one there. They also in return loan out costumes to other theater groups as needed, including Albert Lea High School.

Truax said some musicals could have as many as 30 to 40 cast members with two to three costume changes each — which equals upwards of 80 costumes they have to figure out for one production.

The women recalled working with large casts for “The Music Man” and the “Wizard of Oz.”

The women also have to keep in mind what the sets look like to make sure the costumes won’t clash with the colors or design.

Harty said for ACT’s June presentation of “Cinderella,” she was tasked with making what she called a transformation dress, in which Cinderella could transform from rags to riches with work clothes up to her fancier dress she wore to the ball.

Though they said overseeing the costumes provides them a chance to have a creative outlet, it can be stressful because of tight deadlines.

“Six weeks is about all you have,” Harty said.

As they walked up and down the racks of the costume warehouse, they said seeing all of the costumes brings back memories of former productions. While many of the costumes and clothing items are organized by type of clothes or era they belonged with, some are also stored in plastic totes and labeled with the name of the specific production they were used in, so they are easy to find later.

Harty said they hoped to find more people who are interested in helping with the costumes and who could have fun with it, as it can be a heavy load for only a couple of people.

“It’s time to turn it over to a younger generation,” Truax said.

Harty said when considering donations of clothing or items from the public, they look to first find things they don’t have. They have a need for more plus size clothing, for example.

The women said they are somewhat selective now in what items they take, as they will eventually be having to downsize when they move to a new location.

In addition to the space on Broadway, the theater group owns a building on Clark Street that it uses to prepare sets. It also houses props and other items there such as curtains and bed linens.

ACT has previously housed its costumes at City Arena, as well as upstairs of what is now SNAP Fitness.

Harty said two of the ACT board members have volunteered to do an inventory of the costumes, so they know exactly all that they have and what they may still need to look for.

“To those of us who have been involved this long, it’s amazing how this still thrives,” Truax said of the support ACT continues to receive.

If people are interested in getting involved in the costume work of ACT, they can reach out to Harty at