Behind the Seams: Louise Arcus: The Creative Force Behind Our Theatre Fashion

Meet Louise Arcus, our talented Costume & Wardrobe Coordinator behind College productions The Three Musketeers and Jayne Eyre, as well as multiple dance showcases. We explore Louise’s fascinating career outside Santa Maria College, where she works as a dresser in the dynamic world of live performance.

From iconic productions like Les Misérables, WICKED, Dirty Dancing, Lion King, Cats, Sound of Music, Matilda, The Book of Mormon, & Juliet to the electrifying Tina Turner: the Musical, Louise’s journey embodies creativity and dedication. We take a look into a world where each costume spins a tale as Louise shares her passion and talent in the vibrant theatre industry.

What inspired you to pursue a career in costume and fashion, particularly in the live entertainment industry?

I was inspired to go into the theatre industry during my time as a student at Perth College while helping backstage at my high school productions. I have loved textiles and sewing since the time I started there. I would help the costume technician, Krystal, who is now a great friend and collaborator, at lunchtime and after school to get the costumes ready for shows. Krystal was instrumental in my decision to go to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).

Once at WAAPA, my love for theatre just grew. There, I found a group of like-minded people who quickly became close friends and the best support network, as our jobs can be quite challenging.

Can you share with us some memorable experiences from your time working on shows such as Les Misérables, The Book of Mormon and WICKED?

I’ve been doing professional theatre nonstop since 2014. I have so many memories of so many shows that it’s really hard to pick some.

Wicked showed me that this job isn’t easy. It can be physically and mentally hard. Wicked is often called the Green Machine within our industry as it’s a massive show but runs perfectly as a well-oiled machine. It takes a team of 12 to dress the cast for each performance and includes some of the fastest changes I have ever done.

Les Misérables & Tina: The Tina Turner Musical taught me to be silly, have fun and enjoy the people around me, even when the content on stage can be hard to take in.

In Matilda, there were 12 children on stage every night. I felt like I didn’t see an adult cast member for the full two-month run, but it was so wonderful to work with such young talent, aged between 8 and 12. They were so inspirational, and I’m just waiting for the day that these kids pop up on another show I do as adults.

The theatre is full of the most interesting people. Everyone has different paths and histories. Working in theatre has led me to make friends from all over Australia and the world.

Louise (2nd left) and the dressing crew for Dracula: WA Ballet
Getting prepped for Wicked!

How do you approach the design and creation process when working on costumes for different productions?

I start by reading and discussing the script or watching a dance piece. Then, I start drawing inspiration from wherever possible, researching a topic or issue or researching the characters in the script if they are people from history.

I watch cast members or dancers move and react to their own bodies; some people always like to have their arms covered, and some people are super comfortable in a crop top when others aren’t. So, observing them and taking notes to make sure that they are comfortable on stage in a costume is an important thing to do. I start playing with ideas and making mock-ups of things to see how they move and fit on the body. For big shows at Crown, which come from interstate, the costumes are premade and ready to go. To prep for these shows, I will do a bit of research, looking at the show stills to understand what could come up when it reaches our theatre.

What skills and techniques do you find most essential in your role as a wardrobe assistant and costume technician?

Funnily enough sometimes I think that the sewing/making isn’t always an essential! Organisation is a huge part of this job. List making and note taking are important as we are always thinking ahead.  Sometimes we’ll discuss the next project right in the middle of a current one, so writing things down really helps. Being friendly is such a simple thing. My job backstage encounters so many people. I work very closely with actors in such a vulnerable moment for them in a costume change environment, so it is important to be a professional friendly person. It’s also crucial to have a willingness to learn. There will always be someone that knows more than I do about something, so I’m always learning.

Louise with Rum Tum Tugger from Cats

How do you balance your time between your work on such large-scale productions and your time at Santa Maria College?

My role on most external shows is as a dresser, which means I make sure the cast have all the costumes, socks, shoes etc ready to go at the top of the show. I also help with quick changes during the performance. Dressing is a night shift job so I can do my Santa Maria role during the day, head home for a couple of hours and then hit the theatre at about 6.30 pm for a 7.30 pm performance start. The Drama Department at Santa Maria is very supportive and don’t mind me starting a little bit later in the day so I can get a good sleep. Working part time at Santa Maria helps, especially for Wednesday matinee performances on the large-scale shows. I also have a supportive partner and family who have always been an extra plus when juggling multiple jobs at once.

What do you enjoy most about working on projects at Santa Maria?

Learning more about the props and set has been an extremely fulfilling and challenging experience. I was only trained and worked with costumes before starting at Santa Maria. It’s wonderful working in a department with the most creative people who have amazing vision and are also adaptable and open to my ideas too. I love having discussions with the students about ideas for character work, which can influence design decisions. It’s a great collaboration.

Louise and some of the WICKED cast she dressed

What do you enjoy most about working in the world of costume and fashion, and what keeps you motivated in your career?

I love seeing how shows are made and learning from visiting touring companies, as everyone has their own way of doing things. That keeps it fresh and interesting. So does working across different types of theatre, as all have different ways of costume construction and producing the overall performance. Motivation can sometimes be hard to find. But keeping myself surrounded by creative people really helps. And mixing things up a bit, jumping from a large-scale musical to a West Australian Ballet and back to school keeps things fresh. It’s not all glitz and glamour. We all have our bad days but at the end of the day we produce such a beautiful thing that so many people enjoy and that is really motivating. It’s the push to make something beautiful even if it was the same as the day before, because the people watching the show are different each time.

Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you're excited about?

In December and early next year, a few exciting shows are coming up that I am hoping to jump back into, but for now, I’m excited to just be at Santa Maria for the rest of the year. I am back to focusing on Santa Maria’s Dance showcase for the next little bit, then onto the next Santa Maria project.

If you would like to see more of Louise, you can follow her business @laalaacreations on Instagram.

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