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Wednesday, October 9,2013

Period pieces

Historic Lansing costume shop reopens in time for Halloween

by ALLAN I. ROSS
A cardboard box filled with dismembered heads sits next to the cash register. It’s an appropriately ghoulish sight given that Halloween is right around the corner, but the effect is unintentional. We’re not standing in a haunted house, after all, but the top floor of an old fire station — home to a heating and cooling business — on Lansing’s east side.

“I know, it’s creepy, right?” says Katie Doyle, a macabre sparkle in her eye. “But they’re just waiting for wigs. They won’t be there long — hopefully.”

The heads are Styrofoam mannequins and the wigs are still packed in boxes somewhere inside the Costume Shop, 2300 E. Michigan Ave., formerly the Lansing Civic Players Costume Shop.

Doyle is an assistant at the 2,300-squarefoot shop, which recently came under the care of Riverwalk Theatre. The outfits, accessories and, yes, wigs are available for rent for community theater groups and the general public just in time for costume contest season. Business manager Mara McGill said there are "tens of thousands" of costumes to choose from, ranging in price from $5 for a single accessory up to about $45, not including deposit.

From 1977 through May of this year, the building and the costumes were the property of Lansing Civic Players, one of the oldest community theater companies in the country. The Civic Players exists only as a nonprofit these days; the company hasn’t staged a show since April 2012. The costumes were its last vestige of an operational theater. Jeff Brenner, owner/operator of Brenner Heating & Cooling, and a supporter of the Lansing community theater scene, bought the firehouse earlier this year — but the costumes weren’t part of the deal.

“Since the ‘70s, the Players had an agreement with Riverwalk that they would be in charge of storing costumes and Riverwalk would be in charge of props and sets,” Doyle said. “But now it’s all back together again. It makes sense.”

Those costumes include holdovers from a variety of shows dating back nearly 100 years — including from such period piece productions as “The Sound of Music,” “The Rothschilds” and “The King and I” — as well as specialty vintage clothing.

“All of our Jazz Age costumes are very popular right now,” McGill said. “Since ‘The Great Gatsby’ came out this summer, a lot of people have been hosting Gatsby parties. But we get calls for all kinds of stuff — there’s a guy who called today looking for a big fish costume. I have to go see if we have that.”

After a brief search, she finds that not only does she have a fish, she also has a seal and what looks like a giant crab. There are also Roman soldiers, Flintstones and costumes based on Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” remake packed in there.

“When we took over, we had to actually get rid of a lot of stuff,” McGill said. “There were outfits that were just too small and shoes that no one would ever wear again. Anything we got rid of, we donated to Goodwill or the Volunteers of America.”

McGill said one of the new things Riverwalk management added was a wedding room, featuring gowns, dresses, accessories and a variety of formal menswear.

“Supposedly they´re for plays, but the outfits are in good enough shape to be used for real weddings,” McGill said. “There´s not really a limit for what you can do with the clothing and accessories we have here.”

Styrofoam heads not included.

The Costume Shop

Opens Saturday, Oct. 12 Temporary hours (through Nov. 2): 3:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday; Thursdays by appointment only. 2300 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing (517) 484-9199 rwtcostumeshop.com


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