The following articles chronicle the acquisition and inventory of the Tracy Costumes collection.
A Costuming Coup or, Your FUMGASS Dollars at Work!
By Mitch Gillett
The 2020 – 2021 pandemic season was bad for everyone. Among the hard hit were the arts, and particularly live theatre of every kind. Most of you, dear readers, already know this as UMGASS had to cancel not only its Spring and Fall 2020 shows, but its live Spring 2021 show (albeit, producing an incredible online production of Cox & Box / Trial By Jury, which has received rave reviews from across the country), and it didn’t just stop UMGASS, but every G&S company across the globe had to take an unexpected pause in their production schedule. So, sort of like the domino effect, if nobody’s producing theatre (particularly G&S), then no one is buying makeup or renting costumes and wigs. Costume houses have to keep huge amounts of stock costumes and costume pieces stored on site or in warehouses and have to pay rent on these buildings. Many costume houses don’t have large reserves of cash, and this has caused several to close their doors. Sadly, one of them is Tracy Theatre Originals (Originally, Tracy Music Library), a Boston rental library of sacred and secular music which had been in business since the 1890s, and supplied many of the special costumes and uniforms for UMGASS shows. Originally founded by George Lowell Tracy, a musician and composer by trade, he partnered with Gilbert and Sullivan to be the sole “Authorized” supplier of parts and vocal scores for the U. S. market in the late 1890s. Since Gilbert and Sullivan, as a U.S. judge once said, “had no rights a natural born American had to respect,” there was no way to copyright their material, but the next best thing was to at least profit off of the sale (and eventual rental) of officially sanctioned versions of the show, with the vocal scores arranged by George Lowell Tracy. In the 1920s, the company decided to add costumes and scenery to their rental stock and continued through three more owners over the next 100 years. The company rented orchestra parts, vocal scores, separate chorus part books and costumes for most of the G&S canon. The company promoted itself as a national educational theatre supplier of “show packages” of music, costumes & scenery, and added Broadway shows to its inventory in the 1940s and 50s. I remember the Tracy vocal scores that were used for the Interlochen Operetta workshop in the 1970s and 80s. In 1981, Ann Carnaby took over as the fourth owner, and decided to start phasing out the music rental part of the business, as the paper scores were not in good condition, having suffered many erasures of pencil notes over the years. The advent of readily available copy machines quickly made the music rental business redundant, and the adventurous American market preferred to choreograph their own productions rather than rent the “guides” created by Tracy to mimic original London choreography. Carnaby and her husband, a Londoner, were frequent visitors “across the pond” to visit his family and enjoy West End offerings. They became friendly with the front of house manager of the Savoy Theatre, Mr. Albert Truelove, and were greatly saddened to hear from him of the closing of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in the early 1980s. They were able to use this connection to acquire sets of authentic D’Oyly Carte costume pieces for several of the operas. For almost 40 years they continued to upgrade their stock, boosting their Broadway and G&S selections and generally being the go-to costume house for G&S companies and student groups around the country. In the 2000s, Ann began a close relationship with UMGASS’s Marilyn Gouin, the curator of the costume stock for the society. This relationship allowed for special costume work when UMGASS rented their G&S show stock. That brings the moving hand of time back to the pandemic present, and one of those costume houses hit hard and force to close for good is Tracy Costumes. The pandemic was the final straw, although Carnaby had been considering retiring for several years. The puzzle then was how to deal with a collection of approximately 50,000 garments (including costumes, accessories and machinery) in such a way that the garments could continue to “perform” on stage. Because Carnaby had a good relationship with UMGASS and Marilyn Gouin, she approached Marilyn with an offer to sell us complete sets of costumes for certain shows and throw in costume pieces and uniforms for others, particularly the Yeomen uniforms for The Yeomen of the Guard. Marilyn approached FUMGASS President Brynn Raupagh and UMGASS Staff Advisor Lori Gould, and they in turn conferred with FUMGASS Treasurer Ali Roselle. It was decided that there were funds earmarked for costumes and additional funds were allotted to cover the balance and the shipping. Marilyn negotiated for costume sets for Iolanthe, Yeomen, Patience (mostly uniforms), Pinafore, and Pirates. FUMGASS president Brynn Raupagh has calculated that it would only take three shows’ worth of rental savings to break even with the purchase of the new stock. The costumes arrived on May 17, 2021 and went into the costume storage unit. It consists of twenty-one large plastic totes, thirty-three large contractors’ bags, and two original D’Oyly Carte Opera Co. wicker costume hampers. On May 23, Brynn, Lori, Marilyn and several others began initial unpacking and it was found that there are Mikado and Princess Ida costume pieces included in the purchase, along with several opera vocal scores thrown in. In the costumes for The Yeomen of the Guard, Marilyn and Lori made an incredible discovery. They unpacked a greenish long vest, and looking at the tag, they discovered it was an original D’Oyly Carte Opera costume piece, and to top it all off, it had been worn (noted on the label in ink) by their lead comedian John Reed. UMGASS now gets to be the guardian of this piece of G&S history. As the garments are unpacked and inventoried, we will be doing further research into the history of the pieces. Your donations have made this, and other capital upgrades for the society, happen. This project by Marilyn, Brynn, Lori, and Ali shows what a great team your FUMGASS board can field. Enjoy some of these photos of the costumes we bought: some unpacked, and some that may yet be unpacked in the next sessions.
“…That Possesses an Endowed Corps of Professional Bridesmaids…” or How UMGASS Acquired a Near Complete Set of D’Oyly Carte Chorus Costumes
By Mitch Gillett
Last issue I had the great honor of telling you, wonderful GASBAG readers, that your donations have been put to the best use by purchasing from the well respected costume house of Tracy Theatre Originals, a large amount of their stock covering some of our most popular shows. UMGASS got principals and chorus from Iolanthe to Mikado, Yeomen to Pinafore, and much in-between. This unique collection not only brought the Society a complete set of yeomen warder costumes and police uniforms built by Tracy, but with it came several costumes and costume pieces from the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (DOC). Since the last issue when I told you about John Reed’s costume piece from act one of Yeomen, several others have cropped up, and with a little detective work they were paired up with their show and one original principal (Ralph Mason, who went on to be principal tenor for the company in the late 1960s-early 70’s). As the bins and hampers were unpacked, more and more treasures were found, including three original Yeomen townsmen costumes, with the London costume builder’s tags still in them. As time went on, however, Marilyn Gouin and her crew came to realize how much was there. Always a Bridesmaid... Lori Gould, a FUMGASS board member and part of Marilyn’s trusty crew of costume un-packers, kept noticing something interesting. Almost every time that they unpacked a new bin or bag, one or two frilly white dresses with pink candy stripes would be in it. Brynn Raupagh kindly modeled one (Fig. 1). Since Marilyn wanted the people working remotely to be kept updated as to the progress of their work, she posted pictures on Google Photos. When I saw them, I thought that they looked very familiar, and the London costume house label really started me thinking. Ruddigore has long been a favorite of mine, particularly when I saw production photos from the 50s, 60s and 70s in some of the G&S books I grew up with. To me, these dresses looked very much like the “Professional Bridesmaids” costumes that I had seen in those books, and on the DOC Ruddigore album cover from London Records (Decca in the UK). I went and researched in my DOC and G&S books, did image searches online, looked up the costume house, and came to the conclusion that with seventeen dresses, we had a near complete set of the Ruddigore bridesmaids dresses by London theatre designer Peter Goffin. He was chosen by Bridget D’Oyly Carte to rebuild the production’s set and costumes in 1948 (Fig. 2). Yeomen, Ruddigore, and More! Peter Goffin was born and raised in Plymouth, England, and until he was 26 worked primarily as an interior designer and mural painter. He was taken under the wing of the local repertory theatre and allowed to develop as a designer. He worked his way up through larger companies until he was called to London to design (costumes, sets, lighting) for the Westminster Theatre, where he ran the gamut from Shakespeare to Chekhov, from Shaw to O’Neill. This was 1936, and by 1938, he had caught the eye of Rupert D’Oyly Carte, who commissioned him to costume The Yeomen of the Guard in a more modern and stylized fashion. Save for the yeomen themselves, many of the costumes used single colors with a contrast stripe decoration or geometric pattern. Likewise, the set was a stylized, brooding “impression of the tower”, with no set location. Controversial as this was, it set the stage for future companies to step away from a “realistic White Tower flapping on the backcloth” and give set designers a little more freedom. While my research couldn’t determine if the Ruddigore sets and costumes had been damaged in the bombing of London, as were the ones for Princess Ida, we do know that Bridget D’Oyly Carte chose to go with Peter Goffin again when it came time to create a new production of Ruddigore in 1948. He went on to create new productions for Patience, The Gondoliers, Trial By Jury, HMS Pinafore, Iolanthe, and new sets for Mikado. After her death, Dame Bridget’s papers and related DOC archives were donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Because of an ongoing digitalization project, many of the company’s costume designs can be viewed online, including this one of Goffin’s for the bridesmaids (Fig. 3). But, you may ask, (and you do ask many questions!) “How did they get to America?” All Good Things Must Come to an End... In 1982, after a decade of playing to almost 90% houses, but hemorrhaging money due to touring costs (and the denial of an Arts Council grant), the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company closed its doors, and began its liquidation. A little less than two years later, Christie’s held an auction at the Lyric Hammersmith of costumes from the DOC costume stores, and prominent in the Ruddigore section are two lots that contain a total of eleven bridesmaids dresses, and four pink crepe act one costumes for Rose Maybud. These were purchased at auction and disappear from our history, giving us a little more mystery: how did we get 17 bridesmaids costumes (and a mystery dress we will get to) and no Rose Maybud pink dresses? Because, these are not the same dresses. Tracy and Truelove Many of us (and most likely you, gentle reader) have performed in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and likely other shows with our local groups. The thing most of us haven’t done is perform with a touring or major opera company, where you have to maintain a sizable number of “backup” costumes and extras to be used when chorus members change, they are cleaned, or are damaged. This is the same with costume houses, who have to have enough of a certain costume to dress any size chorus. This leads us to our next important actor, Ann Carnaby, last owner of Tracy Theatre Originals. In the late 1970s, Ann and her husband (who was British) would often make trips to London to visit family, and through the small world of theatre professionals, became friends with Albert Truelove, the private secretary of Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte, and general factotum/Treasurer of the opera company. With the Carnabys’ acquisition of Tracy Music and Costume, they forged a very strong link with the company and its management due to its longtime connection with the G&S operas. On one of the Carnabys’ trips, in early 1982, they went to visit Mr. Truelove at the DOC offices (possibly the warehouse off Drury Lane), just shortly after the company’s closure was announced. I’ll let Ann tell the story from here: “Mr. Truelove had just heard that they were closed and was cleaning out, and that was where he gave me these handfuls of promotional materials for the “season that was not to be.” From there, by his arrangement, we went to the costume shop where garments were built, where we determined what would be sent to us, and then on to the scene shop where Michael made arrangements for the shipment. It was all very unexpected… The Ruddigore dresses were indeed part of what was sent in the hampers…” So, the set of bridesmaids dresses (and Yeomen, Princess Ida, and selected pieces) that were a mix of “on stage” and extras, wended their way to America. But hiding among them was a special “extra” that we would later discover. On to A2 ... From here on in, you should be pretty familiar with what happens next. Over the next thirty-some years Tracy would rent many of these costumes to amateur, semi-pro, and professional groups, making adjustment to the costumes, adding to their stock, designing European productions of American musicals, until the pandemic made retirement an attractive option. Marilyn and the FUMGASS board arranged the purchase and shipping of a good portion of Tracy’s G&S specific stock, in the hampers mentioned above, and, there we are, save for that special “extra” item I mentioned… Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day... While Marilyn was originally posting pictures of the newly unpacked items, bit by bit, I noticed among the pink and white bridesmaids dress pictures a different, slightly more elegant pink and white dress: Rose Maybud’s second act wedding gown (Fig. 4). It is quite possible that it had been rarely rented, because when it came time to have the Figure 4 picture taken, it was short by six inches in the back on the dress form, and would have required a very tiny person or one exceedingly thin. This makes sense, because 1948 England was still on ration cards, and would be for a few years more. It is quite possible that this Rose Maybud’s second act wedding gown is the one actually built for the first soprano in the new production, Margaret Mitchell (Fig. 5). It was noted above that all of Rose Maybud’s Act One costumes were auctioned, but only two (I believe) of her wedding gown. It would seem that as taller or heavier principal sopranos joined the company, the first dress may have just gone into storage till the right body turned up. Regardless, we can at least confirm it is “one” of the versions of the wedding gown, as it matches Peter Goffin’s design drawing so well (Fig. 6). In Conclusion... So, the purchase of the Tracy Theatre Originals stock of Gilbert and Sullivan material has put UMGASS and FUMGASS in an interesting position. It has insured that future productions will have the stock of unusual chorus and principal costumes that the operas call for, but now we are also stewards of a piece of the history of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. And not only that, we are stewards of the Tracy Company, one of the first authorized providers of G&S vocal scores, orchestra parts and costumes in the U.S. (see issue 269), because along with costumes we received a vast array of G&S books, music, pictures, and dance guides. These other resources are being unpacked and somewhat catalogued at the moment. All this has been made possible by you, and if I can speak for the board, we thank you deeply for all your support, and hopefully some of these finds will be on display for the Society’s 75th anniversary for you to see in person! Acknowledgements This article would not have been possible without the aid of Marilyn Gouin, Brynn Raupagh, Simon Moss, Raymond Walker, and of course, Ann Carnaby. To all, my thanks.