The Collegian
Monday, July 13, 2020

UR students create costumes for "The Learned Ladies"

The University of Richmond's department of theatre and dance will debut its performance of "The Learned Ladies" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, in the Alice Jepson Theatre.

"The Learned Ladies" is poet Richard Wilbur's witty adaptation of Moliere's classic 17th century comedy that lampoons pretense and skewers hypocrisy, according to the Modlin Center for the Arts website. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for UR employees and $10 for Richmond students.

The play is a comedy about women in the time of Louis XIV in France trying to gain the rights to be learned, student stage manager Kathryn Cohen said. The plot is basically the husband and the wife undermining each other - it's a huge power play between the men and women in the shows, she said.

"It's a comedy and our school definitely doesn't do a lot of comedies," she said. "I hope people will laugh. They should, it's pretty funny."

It's a cast of 17 characters, including two equity actors from the city of Richmond who are working with the students, Cohen said. Part of the job of the equity actors, besides acting, is teaching the students and exposing them to different techniques.

The costumes will be true to the French period, designed by professor Johann Stegmeir.

Maggie McGrann, assistant costume designer, said that for this show they had constructed every costume and had not bought anything except for shoes and jewelry. The costume shop workers had to make three skirts for each female character, and a vest, a coat and britches for each male. About 10 shop employees have been working on them since the beginning of the year.

"Expert stitchers come in and show us how, because we're still learning," McGrann said. "Working alongside them is a really valuable opportunity."

It is interesting to see the color composition that Stegmeir has created, she said. Because the play centers on two sisters, one wants to get married and one thinks women should be educated, their looks reflect their differences. "The ties between all the characters with the colors are really cool," McGrann said.

McGrann described the process: Starting with the petticoats, the shop had to figure out a corset pattern for all of the women, put in the boning line, stitch and reinforce them; each female has two petticoats, one cartridge-pleated and one knife-pleated; then they learned how to construct bum rolls - a crescent-shaped pillow that ties around waists to give that bum silhouette.

The costumes were made as mock-ups first, which were fake versions to see how a costume was going to fit on the body before the real fabric is used, she said. The fabric came from Mood in New York, the same store featured on Project Runway, she said.

"There are still just a lot of little detail things that need to be done -- hems finalized, wigs set up," McGrann said. "And makeup is going to be the big experiment...

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"It's going to be super fun. It's really funny, and we have two awesome actors who are playing two hysterical characters. Moliere's not done a ton here but it's a whole other kind of classical play that is probably way more fun than a lot of people here have seen."

Cohen said the cast has been working hard to prepare for opening night: "We don't have the whole thing set up, most of the costumes aren't finished; in this department, you work very much to the wire - we will see what happens."

Cohen said she would like to have a bigger audience. "I think something to encourage the student body is it is funny and it's under two hours," Cohen said.

The play will show at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Contact reporter Mia Lichter at

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