The restoration and redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Costume Workshop has been completed in the Company’s Stratford-upon-Avon hometown. The RSC has the largest in-house costume-making department of any British theatre and the future of costume making on the historical site has been secured through a mix of public and private support.
Over 30,000 people from around the world supported the Stitch In Time fundraising campaign, alongside the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and The Government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership. With gifts from other trusts, foundations, companies and individuals, £8.7 million was raised for the Costume Workshop restoration and redevelopment.

The 30-strong team of costume makers have moved back into the new workshop which has some of the best facilities for costume-making. The redeveloped building, which includes more space and daylight, is now fit to provide training and apprenticeship opportunities to retain the costume-making skills and crafts locally. For the first time the Costume Workshop will be open to visitors where they will get a glimpse at the skills used every day to create RSC costumes, and to see the restored Grade II listed buildings that now sit alongside newly created spaces. Guided tours are expected to start in 2022.

The Costume Workshop team had to relocate for two years whilst the restoration and redevelopment took place. This involved packing and moving:

• Over 1714 reels of thread
• 7885m of stock fabric
• 3500 pairs of shoes
• 1131 magnets
• One pricing gun
• 126 paintbrushes
• Five Sheila’s Maids
• 115kg salt
• 97 hat blocks
• Two hat stretchers
• 27 fob watches
• One Sonic Jewellery Cleaner
• One swivel knife
• One power file
• One anvil pre-1950s
• 36 Mannequins
• 45 Sewing machines
• 862 square feet of stock leather
• One manual treadle machine from the 1920’s
• Seven tailor’s hams
• Eight velvet boards

All items are now in the new Costume Workshop which is home to many specialist skills, and crafts including men’s and women’s costume-making, millinery and jewellery, dyeing and costume painting, costume props and footwear. The workshop sits opposite the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres on the site of the 1887 Memorial Theatre Scene Dock, which is now the new entrance to the building.

Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director said: “Thank you to all who have supported the restoration and redevelopment of our Costume Workshop. The team create amazing costumes every year but were doing so in conditions that were not fit for purpose. Costumes are integral to an actor’s performance and to them becoming the character they are to play. As Judi Dench said, ‘no matter how much rehearsal time you have, you cannot get fully into the part until you are in costume’.

“We make, repair and recycle hundreds of costume pieces each year, which are seen by audiences around the world. Costumes have been made on this site continuously since at least the 1940s, and the workshop now has the costume-making facilities to secure the legacy of our costume-making skills and the heritage buildings that house them.”

Harriet Walter, RSC Associate Artist said: “Much as I loved visiting the rabbit warren where costumes and armour and everything else was made in the old days, I realise it was pretty much a Dickensian sweatshop and it was more fun to visit rarely than to work in permanently.

“The RSC costume laboratory has produced all kinds of magic and I can remember nearly every RSC costume I have worn on stage and many that I viewed from the auditorium. It is testament to the skill contained here that these costumes have endured and not fallen apart after all the wear and tear we have given them. Playing Cleopatra, I needed to be free to move around, to feel skittish and sexy and then transform into a grieving shadow and emerge from that grief with a final triumphant throned image. The costumes did most of that work for me”.

As part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund support for the project, Threads is a programme of engagement activity that will celebrate the opening of the Costume Workshop and run until the end of 2021. The aim is to share the heritage of the building, the technology and the people involved in costume-making in Stratford-upon-Avon through a series of family events, community projects, exhibition, and educational activity.
The Threads Costume Day on Friday 20 August will celebrate RSC costume-making heritage through a series of free pop-up performances, workshops and family-friendly activities taking place across Stratford-upon-Avon. Full details to be announced.

Anne Jenkins, Director England, Midlands and East, National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “It is wonderful that thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to support Threads and the costume workshop restoration to ensure that these amazing services and unique skills are preserved for years to come, meaning that local people and visitors will be able to learn more about the RSC’s rich heritage on and off stage.”

Helen Peters, Board Director and Chair of the CWLEP’s culture and tourism business group, added: “The £1 million awarded from the Local Growth Fund will enable the public to access the costume workshop for the first time which will be a major boost to tourism in the town as we all recover from the pandemic.

“The CWLEP Strategic Reset Framework is focused on encouraging enterprise and innovation to drive forward the economy and this is a perfect example of collaborative working which will give the RSC the opportunity to train the next generation of costume makers as well as encouraging more people to visit Stratford-upon-Avon.”

Peter Knott, Midlands Area Director for Arts Council England said: “We’re proud to invest in the RSC and delighted to hear its long-awaited costume workshop is now complete. Theatre is about so much more than just the final performance, so I hope this new space will not only give the costume department the resources they need but give visitors from around the world a rare insight into the intricate and inspiring work that goes on behind the scenes of this world class theatre company.”