In Aalto Studios’ costume studio and set construction workshop Tjaša Frumen and Elina Ström, both MA students in Costume Design, and Oscar Dempsey, MA student in Design for Performing Arts, are hard at work on imaginative costumes and set designs for “Ihmemaa,” a musical production led by students at University of the Arts Helsinki. “Ihmemaa” translates to “wonderland,” as this year’s winter musical — part of an annual tradition — is an adaptation of the classic Alice in Wonderland.
Ström and Frumen have been diligently gathering costume resources, designing, and fitting their works to match the actors and requirements of the production. The pair are working admirably to overcome tight constraints, supplementing costumes from Aalto’s costume stores with clothing items from their own wardrobes, as well as those of the cast and crew and their family and friends.
Conversely, they also face wide-open creative control — both a blessing and a curse for any creative professional — and are rising to the challenge. “The perks of designing for the wonderland is that there are no limits,” says Frumen, “but in every world there are rules to be followed, and they should be consistent.”
Their main workshop space is the costume studio at Aalto Studios, where the pair are able to work alongside and learn from studio master Anja Behm, who’s drawing from her past experience to create some of the headpieces for the production — rabbit and cat ears, mostly.
Dempsey has been busy with a more offbeat task: crafting a set of giant styrofoam teeth to be used as a backdrop, conveying to the audience the idea that much of the story happens inside the main character’s head. Crafting surreal sculptures isn’t an unfamiliar project for Dempsey, who’s past work as a fine artist took him through Ireland, the UK and Denmark.
“I’m trying to take whatever knowledge I have at the moment about making stuff and applying it to the stage,” says Dempsey, as he continues to carve away at the styrofoam blocks that will become teeth. Like Dempsey’s art in the past, the teeth aren’t just a backdrop, they’re also interactive: two of the half-meter high teeth will be removable by the actors on stage during the production. With the help of workshop master Jyri Lahelma, Dempsey’s exploring using magnets to make removability easy.
The winter musical, a regular annual production by Uniarts Helsinki students, isn’t part of their regular curriculum but instead something the students take on together. Ström and Frumen estimate there are 40–50 students taking part, from the designers, crew, cast, and band. The three students joined the project through a costume design student performing in the musical. “It’s nice to have the possibility to collaborate with other schools,” said Ström.
“Ihmemaa” opens 6 February at Gloria in Helsinki. Learn more about the production here, follow their Facebook page for behind-the-scenes photos and information, and buy your tickets to see the show here!