Petite Theatre Costume

This was originally published on February 28, 2018

I have always wanted to walk in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans and this year my dream came true! It was a friend of a friend of a friend kind of situation that was in a sub krewe of Chewbacchus. Which if you don't live in New Orleans and are not familiar with how parades work this is probably another language to you. So here's the basic run down: Chewbacchus is a sci-fi/fantasy walking parade that goes through the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods of New Orleans. Anyone can walk in this parade as long as you pay dues. A lot of people then form sub-krewes and decide on a theme for their little group. So there was a krewe of unicorns, dr suess, aliens, star wars, etc. I was in the Dystopian Paradise Krewe and our theme was Dystopian Circus. 

Me and my Mardi Gras partner in crime, Emily Timmerman, wanted to come up with a costume outside of the normal circus characters. After a long coffee date where we went deep into the rabbit hole of Pinterest we found this photo.

Once we found this we were both full of ideas on how to make it happen! We came up with the idea to make individual theaters out of cardboard boxes that we would wear from suspenders. After we had the general idea of how it would look we went to work creating the structure and then decided on design elements as we went.

Step 1 was getting an 18" x 24" heavy duty moving box. We sealed it up with packing tape on all sides and then cut out holes on three sides: top and bottom where we would fit inside and then another hole in the front where the theatre scene would be.

Next we placed a piece of cardboard between the top and bottom hole that created a stage back. We left about a 2" space on either side of the stage back so that we could later string battery operated lights into the stage and have the on and off switch within reach inside the costume. 

We had looked up a lot of vintage theatres and circus photos ahead of time so we went through and found something that had this really cool shape on the top. Emily free handed a curve shape which we mirrored to create a bell shape for the top and sides making a little shelf on top of the box.

After we had the entire structure how we wanted it we applied about 2-3 layers of paper mache. This is a somewhat tedious process - especially going over all of those curves but it is totally worth it! It smooths out all of the bumps and fills in any gaps between pieces of cardboard. I used both the flour & water method and watered down elmer's glue and by far the emler's glue option comes out wayyy smoother. After applying all the paper mache layers I lightly went over the box with a sanding block to smooth out overlapping pieces of paper and then gave the whole box a good coat or two of paint.

Now the box is ready to roll for the best part, all of the embellishments! Nearly all of the trim and applique I got from Jefferson Variety. The little characters inside the scene I downloaded from vecteezy and printed at Office Depot.

I designed the poster on the back of the theatre with the intention to make it look like an old timey circus advertisement. I got it printed at Office Depot as a full color engineer print which fit perfectly on the back of the box.

The amount of hours put into this costume is absurd. We probably both clocked 50 hours each on our boxes. There were many nights of hot gluing sequins until 1:00am but it was totally worth it.

I really don't have any process shots from when it was first painted to the end result. It was a lot of designing as you go and making creative decisions based on what supplies I had on hand. It was honestly a bit overwhelming to make the first move but once I got the center appliques in position everything else really fell into place and started to make sense!

I raised the stage with the intention of making creating gears and a hand crank so that my theatre scene would actually move but I really did not have enough time to make that happen. Maybe next year I'll get it figured out!

The straps we added last and did so by trying on the box and then getting someone to help measure how far apart the straps should be and how long they should be based on where it would comfortably fit. It is nearly impossible to get in if you fix both straps in so one of them needs to be able to untie from the box and then secure again after you get in.

It was an absolute blast walking in the parade. The best part was walking and seeing peoples faces light up when they saw our costume. A few little kids pointed to us and said "look magic" which completely melted my heart into a puddle. I had the most fun and I'm soo happy that not only did I finally walk in a parade but I went ALL OUT for it!

I somehow don't really have that many photos when we were all dressed up in our costumes but people were taking pictures of us left and right. If you are one of those people I would love to have a copy!! Please email me :)

Leave a comment