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Mamaroneck Students Work On Shakespeare Costumes On Break

Dee O'Brien fits Mamaroneck High School senior Josh Wrobel for his Peter Quince costume.
Dee O'Brien fits Mamaroneck High School senior Josh Wrobel for his Peter Quince costume. Photo Credit: Chaya Babu

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Students from Mamaroneck High School who are participating in this year's Shakespeare Festival have spent their week off from school sewing, embellishing, styling and finalizing fittings. The Festival, which will take place from March 7 to 10, requires almost 300 costumes.

"We're not renting anything at all and we still have about 100 costumes to finish in the next week," said Dee O'Brien, head of the Semi-Royal Shakespeare Company and director of the two productions, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Winter's Tale."

O'Brien said that there is no budget for costumes, so she recycles her vintage and used clothing, a collection she started in 1971, from one year to the next.

“One of my talents is remembering who wore what, when," she said, as she put a long coat of red velvet on a senior who will be playing Peter Quince in "The Winter's Tale." It was used previously for the role of the Duke of Buckingham in "Richard III" among others.

Senior Maya Samach was sitting on the floor in hallway of the Hommocks Middle School adding floral fabric trim and lace appliques to low-heeled women's shoes along with Lily Turovsky. Samach is taking part for the fifth year on stage and is making costumes as well.

"It’s a creative outlet in many ways since the producers are always willing to give you more responsibilities," she said. "They trusted me enough to make costumes because I can sew, even though I’m acting too."

Samach is making two dresses this year on her own and was in charge of all the female costumes for "King Lear" when she was a sophomore.

“When I haven’t been here this week, I’ve been up in my sewing room at home, sewing like crazy,” she said.

Along with O'Brien and the teenagers, a group of mothers whose children are participating in the performances are helping out with production. “Whatever Dee needs, we want to do -- we’re the worker bees," said Marian Presberg, whose twin boys are each in a different play. "She’s got an incredible vision and she really makes Shakespeare come to life for these kids. She gets them to understand how profound Shakespeare is and how beautiful it all is.”

Kim Huang, another mom whose daughter is in the play has been busy with alterations and pointed out the costumes for the fairies of the underworld in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"They're dark fairies, so for a fantasy-like look, we’ve taken chiffon scarves and turned them into flowy sleeves. We’ve been very creative; there’s a lot of silk and velvet," she said.

O'Brien's ability to create a whole new look out of existing materials is what she said makes it possible to consistently source from her costume collection. With the hands of what she calls her "League of Extraordinary Women," she had gold trim added to jacket lapels, took a dress in half and sewed on a new skirt made out of a curtain, and put glittery tassels on the shoulders of a coat her sister wore to prom in the 1960s.

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