Kool Kat of the Week: Joanna Schmink Finds the Right Fit for Atlanta Opera’s PORGY & BESS

Posted on: Feb 23rd, 2011 By:

It’s Monday morning before opening night for the Atlanta Opera‘s PORGY & BESS, George Gershwin’s self-dubbed “American folk opera” about a disabled beggar who falls head over heels for a tough guy dockworker’s girl in Catfish Row, a Charleston, South Carolina gullah community. To say that the Atlanta Opera’s costume shop is busy would be an understatement. Seated at a big work table, Stitcher Brett Parker pins and bastes a chorus member’s circa 1930s purple dress. Across from him, Synithia Cochran, First Hand, makes final adjustments to a pink frock. On another surface to the side, Patricia McMahon, Costume Shop Manager, irons a red satin bodice yet to be attached to a dress for leading lady Laquita Mitchell, who plays Bess. And costume assistant Michele Kennedy adjusts a suit on a cloth dressmaker form.

Supervising the whole shebang is Costume Coordinator Joanna Schmink, who has worked with the Atlanta Opera for 18 seasons. For PORGY & BESS, most of the wardrobe were rented as a package from the Houston Grand Opera. Director Larry Marshall had played dope peddler Sportin’ Life in that company’s 1995 PORGY & BESS production and really liked the look, says red-headed Schmink, casually dressed in an airy black and white top and jeans, pointing to several racks in an adjoining room. The clothes on them are a mixture of vintage and more contemporary that resembles a ’30s look sufficiently from stage, all labeled to indicate the character or chorus member who will wear them. The availability of all these costumes in one batch in many ways made the job easier for the five-person costume team, but it certainly didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to do. For example, when the lot arrived at the start of January, Schmink discovered that all of the Bess dresses looked too worn for use and had to be recreated.

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