Elfie Tuesday: Q&A with Costume Designer Shelly Hall

Corbin Pitts and Madison Stolzer. Photo by John David Pittman.

Corbin Pitts and Madison Stolzer. Photo by John David Pittman.

With Elf The Musical taking the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, we have penned a short series called “Elfie Tuesday” every Tuesday throughout its run.

In its last week, we are looking at some of the festive creations donned by the 33 cast members of the holiday musical.

The designer behind these masterpieces is Shelly Hall, who has been creating costumes for other Rep productions for several seasons, including productions such as A Christmas Story, Next to Normal, Avenue Q and more.

We had a chance to talk to the designer about her start in costume-making for theatre, her inspiration and design process and what she enjoys most about being a costume designer.

Here is what she had to say:

How did you get into costume-making for theatre? 

Growing up, my mom and sister could sew and they made clothes and the best Halloween costumes for me. When I was about 8 years old, my mom showed me how to use her sewing machine, gave me a box of scrap fabric and let me ‘play.’ I created all kinds of ‘designs’ for myself and my dolls and then as I got older, she showed me how to read a pattern and sew for real. I made my own costumes for high school plays and always loved to sew for fun. I never really thought about going into costume design as a career, though. When I went to college, my intent was to be a set designer and actor, but the tech director found out I could sew and he sent me to the costume shop on one of the first productions my freshman year.  I still worked on set crew and was pretty good at it, but my sewing skills won out and I spent most of my time building costumes and maintaining the costume shop inventory for the next three years. I still never thought about going into costuming as a career, and ended up not graduating because I chose a different path in life: getting married, having a family and following a career into movie theater/video store management and then ownership.

I continued to make costumes for my kids and for promotional things in our movie theaters. I would costume our staff for big opening night events like The Addams Family, Star Trek Generations, Grease and actually won national recognition from Warner Brothers for Batman Returns in the ‘90s.  It wasn’t until much later in life when I decided to go back to school to finish my degree that I realized costume design was my passion. So, 25 years later, I graduated from Jacksonville State University in Alabama with a degree in theatre/costume design.

IMG_20141125_175315_608How do you get inspiration for your creations, particularly for Elf and what is your costume design process from start to finish?

Finding ideas for costumes is something that I am always watching for, not really on purpose, but just because I find things that interest me on the Internet and in real life fashion that inspire me. I keep random photos of the things I find on my computer and collect books of historical costumes, art, fantasy and all kinds of things. And then when a design opportunity comes along, I start my creative juju with those resources.

As with any show, a designer starts with the script and then draws upon research, input from the director and others, as well as past experiences and ideas. The inspiration for the Christmastown elves in Elf started with remembering a show that I did in college, Seussical the Musical where the designer, Freddie Clements, used fleece and foam tubing to make dresses for the Whos. I knew that I wanted the little girls to have a ‘bell-like’ silhouette and the idea that Freddie used would give me that shape. I also knew I wanted the elves to have a look that resembled a uniform that would set them apart from the ‘real world.’ Band uniforms were the inspiration for that aspect and then their costumes just evolved from the cute side of my brain knowing also that they needed to be colorful, whimsical, happy and fun because Christmastown has to be the happiest place on earth with all the toy making and sugar eating and well, Buddy and Santa!

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Price Clark (Michael), Anna Lise Jensen (Emily), J.B. Adams (Santa), David Hess (Walter) and Ethan Paulini (Buddy). Photo by Stephen Thornton.

With a show as well-known as Elf, there are certain images that audiences expect to see: the red and white stripe tights and curly toed elf shoes, Buddy’s look, and of course, Santa. So, I tried to keep these in my design and still add some of my own creativity into the mix. The inspiration for Santa came from the iconic Rockwell-style Coke ads, with a bit of the traditional ‘Father Christmas’ image flare. The Macy’s elves were a compilation of several iconic elements– the striped tights, the triangular pointed collars with dangling jingle bells and of course, the traditional Christmas red-and-green color combination. I felt it was important for the look of the show to keep Buddy as close to his known image as possible, but yet not copy someone else’s creativity 100 percent, so I only made subtle changes to preserve that expected appearance.

What do you enjoy most about being a costume designer?

I love the entire process. It is impossible to single out any phase of costuming that is a clear favorite. I enjoy it all, from the imagination and research stage into actually seeing the design come to life when an actor walks on stage at first dress. Sometimes there are obstacles in the project; difficulty in finding the right fabrics, a pattern that doesn’t quite fit the way you thought it would, trying to figure out how to construct a difficult element for a costume like curly toed elf shoes, or just dealing with a bad idea that seemed like a good idea in the beginning.  The satisfaction that comes on opening night when everything is completed, even if there is still something that you wish you would have done differently, (and this happens to all designers I am sure) is so greatly rewarding. It’s the ‘high-five’ moment that makes it all worthwhile.

All remaining shows of Elf are sold out but there are 10 Standing Room Only seats at $40 apiece for each performance. Just stop by the Box Office an hour before showtime to receive a voucher! Call (501) 378-0405 for more information.

Elfie Tuesday: Q&A with Ethan Paulini, Buddy the Elf

With Elf The Musical taking the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, we are penning a new short series called “Elfie Tuesday” every Tuesday throughout its run.
Actor Ethan Paulini is performing the role as Buddy the Elf in The Rep’s production of Elf. Our Dramaturg Robert Neblett took a few moments to ask him some questions about the show and his role of playing the loveable character, which can also be found in our special study guide for the production here.
Photo by John David Pittman

Photo by John David Pittman

Why do you think Elf (the film) has become such a contemporary holiday classic?

Every generation seems to have a classic Christmas film. Films like It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and now Elf. I think Elf came out at a time when people wanted to laugh. The idea of family and togetherness is a common theme for the holiday season, but I think that combined with the out and out, over-the-top comedy of Elf really resonated with audiences. Laughing makes people feel good and people want to feel good at Christmas.

How would you describe the biggest differences between the film and the musical version of Elf?

Well, singing and dancing for one thing. There are slight variations in the story to support a musical number or a slightly modified comedic bit. The original story is there and many iconic moments are represented on stage, but it also explores the relationships between these characters slightly differently, especially the family. They all have a different experience while trying to accept this 30-year-old, 6’2” tall grown-up who thinks he is one of Santa’s elves.

What do you think the ultimate message of the piece is?

There is a lyric in the song “The Story of Buddy the Elf” that I sing with my father – “maybe the point of the story is it’s never too late to grow.” The beauty of this line is that I don’t think it means growing in a traditional sense. I think it is more about that willingness to change and evolve as a person. Buddy doesn’t apologize for who he is and rather than caving in to the pressures to conform, he makes others rediscover the child inside them. He pushes them to in many ways be themselves.

Is there a little bit of Buddy in you?

Absolutely. I would like to hope I am a bit more mature and aware, but I do like to think I have maintained some of the youthful optimism that Buddy has in spades.

How do you prepare for a role like Buddy? What do you hope to bring to it that no one else can?

I think this is a role, more than some others, that is about building up my stamina. I am onstage for virtually the entire show, so for me it’s about staying healthy. I have been exercising, trying to eat right and get plenty of sleep. As far as the actual role, of course, I watched the movie. I definitely want to make Buddy my own so I am trying to find a way to bring what Will Ferrell brought initially but I also want to put my own stamp on the role. One of the great things about Arkansas Repertory Theatre is that they aren’t interested in carbon copies or replicating a particular production or movie, so that gives me the freedom to bring all of my own ideas about who Buddy is and where is comedy comes from. I hope to bring a sense of authenticity to him. The comedy comes from his earnestness, he doesn’t try to be or even realize he is being funny, and I like to think as a comedic actor that is something I understand and do well.

You’ve played many roles onstage at The Rep. Do you have any favorites? How would you describe Little Rock audiences, compared to other audiences around the country?

This is the toughest question. I have loved them all for different reasons. I gained a lot from each and every experience in both personal and professional ways. I suppose The Full Monty will always hold a special place for me since it was my first show here. The rehearsal process for my most recent show, Compleat Wks of Wllm Shkspr ABRIDGED was special because the process was so personal. Nicole Capri (our director, and the director of Elf) really allowed us and encouraged us to bring ourselves to the characters. That is not only so rare, but also makes it a lot of fun. For me, I guess each experience boils down to the people and each show has provided me the opportunity to work with such remarkable collaborators that it is nearly impossible to narrow it down to just a couple of memorable moments. The audiences here are so generous. It takes a lot of energy to get out there and do this sort of work and the audiences here give it back. It makes it that much more rewarding for us to do our jobs.

How do you think Little Rock audiences will respond to this show? What do you think will surprise them about the musical?

I think they will LOVE the show. It’s bright, shiny and happy. But I think the surprise will be how touching this story and these characters are. Of course they will come in expecting to laugh but I think they will leave feeling warmer and perhaps a bit more nostalgic than they expected.

What was your favorite Christmas movie or television program when you were growing up and why?

Well, I used to countdown the minutes until Frosty and Rudolph and all of those great television specials that would come on during Christmas. But without a doubt, A Christmas Story is not only my favorite Christmas movie, but one of my very favorite movies. When it is on for 24 hours on Christmas, I generally average 3 or 4 viewings. I just find that family so warm. I really feel like it captures that childlike excitement that occurs during the whole holiday season. It didn’t sugarcoat it, either. It showed those characters as flawed and funny and human and totally lovable.

What is it like performing away from home on Christmas? Do your fellow actors become your family on occasions like that?

There are so many people here in Little Rock who are like my family that it feels surprisingly natural. I have worked with Mark, our musical director, Marisa our dance captain, and Nicole, our director, on several occasions and I count them among my best friends in the world. Beyond that, Little Rock has always been so welcoming to me that there are many people who I consider family here. When you work in this business, you have to instantly accept people as an integral part of your life very quickly. That also tends to create a familial dynamic. In this show, I have worked with many of the actors before both here in Little Rock and around the country. In addition, I am a career and acting coach and I even have three clients in the cast. I am also fortunate to have my dad, sister and niece and nephews coming to see the show just before Christmas.

What do you want Santa to bring you this Christmas?

Continued success and challenging and rewarding collaborations, health for me and my family and friends and the strength to follow my path wherever it may lead me….and if he has an extra iPhone 6 laying around, I’d take it off his hands.

All remaining shows of Elf are sold out but there are 10 Standing Room Only seats at $40 apiece for each performance. Just stop by the Box Office an hour before showtime to receive a voucher! Call (501) 378-0405 for more information.

Pulled from Elf study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

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Elfie Tuesday: All About the Cast

With Elf taking The Rep’s MainStage this week, we thought it would be fun to showcase some of the cool backgrounds of some of the actors and where you might have seen them before they made it to our stage!

JackDoyleElfHeadshotWe will start off with Jack Doyle* (Mr. Greenway), who has worked alongside many celebrated talents, including Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Tommy Tune, Sandy Duncan, Cy Coleman, Comden & Green, Charles Strouse, Kristin Chenoweth, and Susan Stroman. He has been featured in numerous Broadway productions and national tours, including Young Frankenstein (Mr. Hilltop), The Music Man (Barbershop Quartet), Beauty And The Beast (Lumiere), Crazy For You (Mingo), Tommy Tune’s Doctor Dolittle (Dolittle US), The Will Rogers Follies (Wrangler Quartet) and Funny Girl (Ziegfeld Tenor). He also has several credits Off-Broadway and regionally and has made appearances on “The Today
Show,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” The Tony Awards and “Broadway On Broadway.”

J.B. Adams* (Santa) JBAdamsElfHeadshothas several Broadway credits to his name, including Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang (Grandpa), Beauty and the Beast (Maurice), Parade (Rosser), Me and My Girl (Sir Jasper) and Annie (Drake/Bert Healy), in addition to numerous Off-Broadway and regional credits across the country. You might have also seen him in movies like “Far From Heaven” and “I Married A Strange Person”; NBC shows, including “The Michael J. Fox Show” and “Law & Order: SVU'; and as Santa in the national Verizon FiOs commerical.

 

DavidHessElfHeadshot

We are excited to bring David Hess* (Walter) back to The Rep after appearing in the 2013 world premiere of Treasure Island. He has been in Sweeney Todd (Sweeney/Judge Turpin standby) and Annie Get Your Gun (Frank Butler/Buffalo Bill standby) on Broadway and has performed on the prominent stages of Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center. In addition to theatre on the Broadway and several regional stages, Hess has appeared in film and TV, including “New York Crossing” and “Tennessee Nights,” “The Americans”, “Elementary”, “The Good Wife” and “Royal Pains”

Lead Ethan Paulini* (Buddy) is a six-time veteran of The Rep, appearing previously in Compleat Wks of EthanPauliniElfHeadshotWllm Shkspr, Avenue Q, White Christmas, The Who’s Tommy and The Full Monty. National tour and regional credits
include: Spelling Bee, Side Man, Urinetown, Spider Woman, Gross Indecency, Old Wicked Songs, The Last 5 Years, Forever Plaid, tick, tick…BOOM!, A Class Act, Moon Over Buffalo, The Drowsy Chaperone, The 39 Steps and Young Frankenstein (NH Theatre Award). He has appeared in TV and on film in “The Big Headache,” “It Is What It Is,” “Here and Now” (NBC) and “The Quinn-Tuplets” (CBS, directed by Emmy Award-winner Mimi Leder), as well as numerous national commercials.

TessaFayeElfHeadshotWhile Tessa Faye* (Deb) is making her Rep debut in Elf, she is no stranger to theatre. With several regional credits to her name, including the CCC Best Supporting Actress-nominated role of Babe in Good News! (Goodspeed Opera) and NHTA Best Supporting Actress-nominated role of Inga in Young Frankenstein (Weathervane Theatre), she has also been featured on TV in shows “The Electric Company,” “Made” and “Pokemon Learning League.”
Alyssa Gorgone* (Jovie) is also making her debut here at The Rep after being featured in AlyssaGorgoneElfHeadshotLes Misérables (Eponine), Legally Blonde: The Musical (Elle Woods) and Neil Simon’s
Fools (Sophia) at the Ocean State Theatre Company, in addition to The Shadow Box at Wimbledon Studio Theatre in London. Her educational background also extends internationally, having studied at Gaeity School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland and Rose Bruford College for Performing Arts in London.
Read more about these cast members of Elf, as well as the rest of the cast here! Great seats are available for Elf after Christmas. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.
* Denotes actor is a member of the Actors’ Equity Association.

Elfie Tuesday: All About Our Elf-Inspired Ice Cream

With Elf The Musical taking the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, starting Wednesday, Dec. 3, we are penning a new short series called “Elfie Tuesday” every Tuesday throughout its run.

Winner Mary Ann Seibert posed with her special pint of ice cream alongside Ethan Paulini (Buddy the Elf) and her two children, Turner and Zoe. Photo by Stephen Thornton

Winner Mary Ann Seibert posed with her special pint of ice cream alongside Ethan Paulini (Buddy the Elf) and her two children, Turner and Zoe.
Photo by Stephen Thornton

Next up in our series is highlighting something sweet: our special Elf-inspired ice cream from  Loblolly Creamery!

For the first time ever, we partnered with Little Rock’s popular ice cream shop to create a special treat for patrons: sweet cream ice cream with peppermint chunks and homemade mallows. After Loblolly created this special concoction, the next thing that was in order was naming it.

This month, we launched an Elf Ice Cream Naming Contest where we asked fans to submit names for the ice cream that incorporated The Rep name and showcased the flavor.

The response was overwhelming. We received more than 200 entries into the contest and as you can imagine, it was pretty difficult to narrow it down, but we did. Here are the top 5 that were chosen:

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Paulini (Buddy the Elf) had a lot of fun scooping up the special Elf-inspired ice cream!
Photo by Stephen Thornton

  1. Rep-permint Chunk; Winner!
  2. Mintmallow Cheer
  3. Buddy’s REPpermint Surprise
  4. Buddy’s Swirly Whirly Mint Mallow Dream
  5. Mallow, Mints and REPeat

After days of voting and a tense battle between No. 1 and No. 4, Mary Ann Seibert’s “Rep-permint Chunk” was crowned the coveted winner of the contest. She won a pint of the special flavor with her name on the carton and a pair of tickets to see Elf!

The special ice cream will be sold at Loblolly Creamery, located inside the Green Corner Store, 1423 Main St., Suite D, Little Rock, and at The Rep the month of December.

Don’t miss your chance to try this one-of-a-kind sweet treat celebrating our holiday production and get your tickets to Elf online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405. Great seats are available after the Christmas holiday.

Elfie Tuesday: An Intro to Elf The Musical

With Elf The Musical taking the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, starting Wednesday, Dec. 3, we are penning a new short series called “Elfie Tuesday” every Tuesday throughout its run.

To start our series– with the help of our dramaturg, Robert Neblett– we will take a look back at the musical and what it was before became a fixture in theatre: a movie of the same name, starring Will Ferrell and James Caan!

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History

After 10 years of development and pre-production, the film of Elf was finally released in November 2003, with a script by David Berenbaum and direction by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Chef). It starred Will Ferrell in his first post-Saturday Night Live role as Buddy, James Caan (The Godfather) as Walter, Zooey Deschanel (The New Girl) as Jovie, Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) as Emily, Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as Santa and Bob Newhart (The Bob Newhart Show) as Papa Elf.

They introduced the world to an unlikely new Christmas hero in the movie Elf. A contemporary fable, this comic film charmed audiences and critics alike, and Buddy the Elf soon became the unofficial mascot for the holiday season in 21st Century America.

Wide-eyed Buddy reminds us that there is still room for magic in our world of hyper-commercialism and Black Friday sales and that the most precious gift of all is the love of family.

The film opened at No. 2 at the United States Box Office and went on to gross more than $220 million worldwide.

It received relatively favorable reviews from critics and audiences for its good-natured humor and positive message. Ferrell’s childlike performance catapulted it to an audience favorite, and Buddy is now a regular fixture in Christmas decorations and holiday television offerings.

In 2010, the story took on a new dimension as it was adapted into a festive seasonal Arcelusmusical for the stage by Tony Award-winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and the Tony-nominated Matthew Sklar (The Wedding Singer and Shrek: The Musical).

Elf: The Musical broke Broadway box office records and toured the country before being snatched up by regional theatres across America, like The Rep this season!

Some differences between the film and the musical:

  • Papa Elf’s (Bob Newhart) role as the film’s narrator is replaced by Santa Claus onstage.
  • Buddy does get a job in the mailroom at the publishing house.
  • The snowball fight that endears Michael to Buddy is replaced by a science project onstage.
  • The role of temperamental author Miles Finch (played by Peter Dinklage), whom Buddy mistakes as an elf, is excised.
  • The musical does not reference the apocalyptic Central Park Rangers, who chase Santa’s sleigh in the movie.

Pulled from Elf study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Great seats are available for Elf after Christmas. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.