Thomas Stratton, Denton High School theater director, prides himself on teaching students through hands-on experience.
One of the latest examples: Denton High senior Calista Martin spent upward of 15 hours making each of three transforming dresses for the school’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
Those familiar with Cinderella, in any of her many iterations, will remember the iconic transformation of her ragged maid’s clothes into a ballgown befitting royalty.
“You expect the ballgown [to transform], but you don’t always expect the way it’s going to happen,” said Martin, the production’s head costume designer. “And the second ballgown is completely a surprise.”
“This story’s a little different than the original,” Stratton said. “It has some extra characters, some different relationships that go on and some different songs.”
He saw the Broadway revival of Cinderella in 2015 in New York and fell in love with the musical.
“I find that it’s still great for little kids, but it has a lot more for adults too,” he said.
Without professional guides for making the dresses, Martin watched clips of other high school productions for inspiration.
“You watch their little clips over and over and over and over, and you try to reverse-engineer what they did,” Martin said.
Within roughly seven seconds, Cinderella’s loose rags are transformed by the Fairy Godmother’s powers into a flowing ballgown.
Martin’s secret to the transformation is as ingenious as it is simple: lightweight folds into the many bits of soiled rags that seep out of Cinderella’s work clothes.
Each rag, splaying in splotches of dingy greens, acts as a subtle pocket.
All Cinderella has to do is rip apart the fabric fasteners and spin to reveal a shimmering dress beneath. A similar mechanism holds the secret to her other two dresses.
Method behind the magic
Stratton has been involved with live theater for his entire life, and he’s been working with teenagers since he was one himself.
Seated in a classroom off the auditorium stage, he is obviously tired.
Excluding Christmas and New Year’s Day, he’s worked seven days a week for about two months. Cinderella was cast around early October and rehearsals began immediately.
First, it was choral practice for the musical’s many songs; then came choreography, blocking, set design and construction, practice with live musicians and dress rehearsals.
“It is a Denton High School fine arts production,” Stratton said. “Not just the theater department.”
Teacher representatives from all aspects of art came together to put the production together, which includes 109 students working as musicians, actors, technical support and more.
Hang up the thimble
Martin, 17, began sewing about six years ago.
She said, “I like to learn by diving into things headfirst, so my first actual sewing project was like a full ballgown.
“Whenever I got to high school, I realized that, by doing costumes, I could sew all the pretty dresses I wanted [without buying fabric].”
Martin said Cinderella will be her last production. For now, she’s looking toward college.
In a perfect world, she would attend Vassar College and study genetic engineering — hoping to one day minimize the need for water and maximize the pest resistance of cotton crops.
For all of the fun she’s had sewing, Martin wants to make the textile industry more environmentally sustainable.