Find out what it takes to create the costumes for a Cirque du Soleil show

Find out what it takes to create the costumes for a Cirque du Soleil show

Costumes come alive

Text: Adibah Isa

Head of wardrobe Jason Brass tells what it takes to pull off a Cirque du Soleil show in Singapore

Watching a Cirque du Soleil show is an experience like no other. Every weekend, guests enter the world of Kooza by Cirque du Soleil by following an innocent as he journeys through a kingdom of crazy characters. For almost two hours, you're invited into a world where superhumans perform death-defying stunts, bodies bend and shape into unimaginable forms of distortion and your inner child releases laughs, sighs and squeals. Then there are the costumes — loud enough to carry your imagination through, and stylish enough to remain tasteful and appreciated by adults as well.

The Quebec-based circus troupe has enthralled the world since their beginnings in 1984, so suffice it to say, they know what they're doing. The costumes take up as much of the star power as the artists and acrobats themselves, and for head of wardrobe Jason Brass, it's been part of his career for more than 18 years. Kooza itself has ran for 10 years, with the American on board for the past eight years. Buro 24/7 Singapore caught him backstage hours before a show in the midst of his insane schedule, which includes 50 to 60 man hours a week.

As head of wardrobe, his role is to make sure everything looks and fits right. That means overseeing the 175 costumes and 160 hats designed by Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt and making sure the makeup works. During our chat, we were interrupted thrice: Once by an artist to check if his makeup was done right (yes, all the artists, both men and women, do their own makeup), and twice by the crew via his walkie-talkie. His office is a corner between areas where they sew costumes, stack shoes, and also where artists perform their warm-ups (gym equipment in tow) and get ready for the show. The desk of the head of wardrobe isn't exactly prim and proper — mirroring the organised chaos of a circus troupe, two screens dominate the corner, while a 3D printer navigates the future of costumes. We hear more. 


Hi Jason! So we hear your grandmother taught you how to sew and that you've been working professionally in theatre since you were 14. Have you ever considered being on stage?
I studied stage management in university and I really fell in love with costumes. No, my passion has always been in the technical aspect of the theatre.

Have you always done theatre throughout?
I took a year off in 18 years and did some television — I worked on Sons of Anarchy and 2 Broke Girls. And cruise lines as well.

At what stage does wardrobe come in before production begins?
The creators normally start about four years before the show opens. The head of wardrobe will come in about three to six months before the production opens and we start building our kits and hiring staff. The casting and costumes have already been made in our studio, so we normally take over the show and see how the show's going to run and keep it going.

Seeing as you've been doing this show for eight years, do you ever get tired of it?

Yeah. But every day is so unique, so different. Things change on the drop of a dime, and you don't know what you're going come into tomorrow. So yes, after eight years, I've been looking at the same costumes and I know every snap, button and everything off the closet.


Which is a good thing.
Then we get budgets for a 3d printer.

How has this changed or improved the way you mend costumes?
These things [parts of a costume] are made of foam and tear and rip easily, so we're spending hours changing them to make sure that it looks great on every artist. So we started thinking, "What can we do to make these stronger, last longer?" We came up with the 3d printed concept.  

How does it work?
We digitised it in Montreal and they made some samples and sent them to test on the show. These are so strong. When the costume retires, I can take them off, put paint on it, and then on to the next costume. So in the next three years, we will never have to use the foam ones again. Kooza is the first show in Cirque du Soleil to use 3D printed objects in wardrobe.

How else has the 3D printer change things?
What's fascinating to me and as a technician, my brain is starting to wrap my head around the world of 3D printing. For example, the king's crown is originally made of delicate European rubber, and it cracked all the time. When a new artist comes in to play the role and their heads are of a different size, we have to change the mould. So that's 60 to 80 hours needed to change the mould, then coding it, then painting it. Now it's 3D printed, I can just go on the computer and rescale it. It's a fascinating little tool.

How does Cirque du Soleil marry functionality and design, notably for the comfort of your artists?
We give the designers guidelines, like "Okay, they need to have tight pants but their sleeves can be long". We have those guidelines that we've come up with over the years. Sometimes they say, "Nope, we want to try this". And then during the show, that's when we figure those things out. 

Till 24 August at Marina Bay Sands. Book tickets.

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