Caitlin Howle, our digital marketing coordinator, recently took some time to talk with Amanda Downing Carney, our Costume Shop Director. In her time at home, she has been working away, along with her staff, including making over 1500 masks for frontline and healthcare workers.

Amanda Downing Carney

Caitlin Howle: How long have you been with Trinity Rep? Can you tell me about how you started here?

Amanda Downing Carney: I started as a Costume Technician at Trinity Rep for the 2006-07 Season. I had been touring for three years, working on Fame: The Musical, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, and Will Roger’s Follies, and my fiancé (now husband) and I decided to take a break. He’d been traveling for six years and we both wanted to stay put for a year or two and see what other adventures awaited us.

I decided to send my resume blindly to the largest most reputable theater in my home state, Trinity Repertory Company – “aim high”, I thought. I had an interesting first year. I made some lifelong friends and my stitching skills became superior- Sewing Boot Camp I call it now. (We did two casts of A Christmas Carol back then which meant we built twice as much in the same amount of time). There was a lot of growth and grace that I learned but, I left after that season.

A year and a half later Bill Lane, the resident Costume Designer, called and asked me to be his assistant so I returned in January 2009, where I stayed and then left again after the birth of my second child in 2012. Then, when the Costume Shop Director position opened up in 2015, I submitted my resume.

I try every day to be the type of leader that I am proud of and I hope my staff feels supported, respected, encouraged, and inspired by their work. I was lucky to inherit a great team and have hired some new folks with amazing spirit. We work hard and try to have fun, too. And my timing was right because at that same time the entire Trinity Rep culture was changing and a real emphasis on diversity and inclusion started happening. I am forever grateful I came back because it feels like home.

CH: What has been your favorite production to work on in your time here? Which was the most complex?

ADC: I’ve loved working on so many shows here for so many different reasons. Some I love because the cast was inspiring like Ragtime and Little Shop of Horrors. Some I love because the director’s concept and tone was so amazing like Angela Brazil and Stephen Thorne‘s A Christmas Carol.

Some I love for the creativity of a new work like the world premiere of The Hunchback of Seville designed by another favorite friend Olivera Gajic. But I’d have to say my favorite production was coincidentally also the most complex, black odyssey. It had an AMAZING ensemble cast, amazing director team of Jude Sandy and Joe Wilson, Jr., an amazing Costume Designer, Kara Harmon who is a joy to work with. And the music, story, vision, all worked. We had a short build time and the costumes were complicated, nuanced, bold, historical, whimsical, sober, and ultimately EPIC. It was A LOT of work to accomplish that show but we were so proud of the end result.

The company of black odyssey, with costumes by Kara Harmon. Photo by Mark Turek

CH:  What’s something you wish people knew about costuming?

ADC: I kind of like that our jobs are a bit mysterious. I think most people don’t understand how much work/time goes into every show and that every detail is thought about for the benefit of the story. I also often joke that my job should require a psychology degree – many personalities, opinions, ideas, and experiences go into the melting pot of collaboration for production on a show and the same is true in costuming. Another surprising aspect of costuming is the amount of organizational paperwork that we make: measurement sheets, sourcing lists, build charts, renderings and research, pieces lists, dressing lists, costume plots, checklists, alteration notes, fix lists, running sheets – so many lists.

CH: How long does it take to make a set of costumes for a production?

ADC: We have between three to six weeks to build the costumes. Often, we begin our builds when the actors start rehearsing. Much of the planning for each show happens months beforehand but the practical work of pulling, shopping, building happens in that 4-week period. All clothes, wigs, accessories, shoes need to be wearable by dress rehearsal/ first day of tech and then we finesse, trim, rework, cut, etc. until opening night the next week.

CH: During our time at home, what have you and the costume shop been doing?

The Costume Department having a Zoom “tea.”

ADC: My staff is incredible and has been so flexible and optimistic. We have a weekly Zoom chat and I give them any new info I may have to share since it changes so rapidly daily, weekly, monthly. We all started using our most important pandemic skill – sewing masks!

It’s quite amazing that we’ve been witnessing a resurgence of “home skills” these past few months. Many folks are sewing, crafting, baking, gardening, and kind of getting back to basics. I think at this point my shop and I (five of us) have made close to 1500 masks. I’ve also been teaching my 2nd and 3rd graders via distance learning which is a full-time job in itself and getting lots of home projects done with my husband. Refinishing our kitchen cabinets and table, installing a patio, backdoor, above ground pool, cleaning out my sewing room, and I’ve planted a garden! The list goes on and on… working in theater our default mode is busy – we have a hard time being idle. 

Nurses at Tufts Hospital in Boston receiving their masks, made by our costume department

CH: What do you do for fun, or when you’re not at the theater?

ADC: I often do costume design side gigs at other theaters! And many of my husband’s and my date nights involve opening nights for shows I’ve worked on! For non-theater fun we do a lot of family hikes, bike rides, beach evenings – we live in South County so our outdoor adventure options are boundless. My kids’ vibrant social lives also keep me busy. I do have a lot of non-theater friends – mostly other moms that keep me grounded in reality and I have a huge extended family that lives locally. I am so lucky, and my life is FULL.