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Dressing "Top Girls": Behind the Scenes with Costume Designer Madison Ryckman ’11

Written by Matthew Connolly
10/26/2009

Madison Ryckman, ’11, costume designer for Top Girls, Ithaca College’s first main stage production of the season. Photo by Martha Pace '12

“Being in the [theater arts] program is what it must be like to have spiritual faith,” says Madison Ryckman, ’11, costume designer for Top Girls, Ithaca College’s first main stage production of the season.

Faith might be a good descriptor for the small family of theater students, who must rely on each other to transform each written play into an actual performance.

Madison Ryckman '11, working in the costume shop in IC's Dillingham Center. Photo by Martha Pace '12

Madison Ryckman '11, working in the costume shop in IC's Dillingham Center. Photo by Martha Pace '12


“We choose our season as a vehicle for training our student actors and designers,” says Norman Johnson, an associate professor in the theatre arts department and the director of Top Girls, a play by Obie Award-winner Caryl Churchill.

Each Ithaca College production is designed entirely by students with the help of faculty mentors. “One has to take it from the page and make it stand up,” says Johnson.

That process began months ago as Ryckman and student lighting and scenic designers joined a student technical director to research the play and share ideas about what the final product might look like.

Slideshow best if viewed in full screen. Photos by Mike Grippi '10


For the play's complicated portrayal of successful women, Ryckman drew on works by feminist artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Judy Chicago. The designers and director collaborated to create the first round of renderings, literally crafting a vision for the performance.

As costume designer, Ryckman handled the budget and made all the creative decisions in her area. It’s a level of responsibility that can be intimidating but ultimately rewarding, says Ryckman, wearing a stylish sweatshirt-sweatpants combo. “I find myself putting a lot more effort into other people’s clothes.”

Then the actors enter the picture. “The actors have their own concept of who the character is. It’s about working with them to create another world,” says Ryckman. “The goal is that the characters don’t have to say anything and we already know who they are.”

The cast and crew exhibit an amazing level of support as they put in overtime to get the production up and running. “It really is like a family,” says Johnson. “The department functions unlike any other.”
 



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