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Mira Costa's Costume Designer Creates Masterpieces Year After Year

Oct 26, 2023 02:17PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Costume designer Alison Gerber with some of her creations for Mira Costa productions.

Anyone who has attended a Mira Costa High School theatrical production has likely wondered: How does a high school drama department have such dazzling professional-looking costumes? 

The answer dates back to 2012, when Alison Gerber’s son Adam first asked her if she would help create costumes for a Mira Costa High School production that he was in. The question wasn’t purely out of left field: Gerber is a professional costume designer with an MFA from UCLA in costume design who has created costumes for Pepperdine University, the 1984 Summer Olympics, the LA Center Theater and the LA Opera Company. Gerber agreed, figuring it would be a one-and-done situation. 

Fast forward to 2023: Adam has long since graduated, and Gerber continues to design award-winning costumes for Mira Costa’s productions as a labor of love. Her record now includes an impressive 23 1/2 productions (the "1/2" is for the pandemic play that didn’t happen). From her Manhattan Beach home, Gerber designs, creates, and holds “Costume Camps” where parents of drama students come over to sew (and in some cases, learn to sew) a production’s worth of costumes. Her exquisite and intricate designs are not only famous on the Mira Costa stage; they are repeated award winners at the Hometown Fair’s Community Showcase. 

(One of Gerber's award-winning designs)

MBNews had a chance to chat with Gerber as she prepares the costumes for this fall’s productionPeter and the Starcatcher," starting November 3.

MBNews: Where do you get your inspiration for your costumes? 

Gerber: It depends on the show. For a show that is set in a certain period of time like Oklahoma! or Anything Goes I research period photographs and also watch movies set in that time period. For a more contemporary show like Mamma Mia! I create a Pinterest page and start collecting images. I share the page with our director, Jonathan Westerberg, and we discuss various looks for each character.

MBNews: Do you work from commercial patterns, or do you design your own patterns based on illustrations or sketches? 

Gerber: All of the above. I have purchased vintage patterns on eBay and historical patterns online. I also draft my own patterns.

MBNews: Do you consult with the directors/designers on a certain "look" for the costumes?

Gerber: Absolutely. We always meet early in the process to discuss how the costumes are going to tell the story we want to tell.

MBNews: Where do you source the materials from? 

Gerber: For garments, the first thing I do is pull from our stock. Then I hit the thrift stores. For fabric my favorite places are SAS, M & L, and Downtown L.A. I rarely buy fabric online because you really need to be able to see the color in person and feel the fabric.

(A "costume camp" hosted by Alison Gerber)

MB News: When you host your "costume camps," do your helpers need to have previous sewing experience? 

Gerber: Some do and some don’t. I try to have things for people to do that don’t require sewing experience. Although I am happy to teach anyone basic sewing skills. Yesterday we worked on mermaids. People used “bedazzlers” and we cut shapes that will be used as scales.

MBNews: Do you have "regulars" who help every year? 

Gerber: I do have people who participate even though their kid has graduated.


MBNews: Have there ever been any costume mishaps, like costumes being misplaced or accessories not staying on? 

Gerber: Nothing drastic comes to mind. I do my best to make sure the costumes can withstand the rigors of being worn on stage for many performances. Every now and then an actor’s pants will rip during a musical number. There is always a large supply of safety pins and a sewing kit backstage so the crew can take care of emergencies.

MBNews: So after all this time, do you have a favorite costume that you've made? 

Gerber: I have a few; Captain Hook from Peter Pan, Tzeitel’s wedding dress from Fiddler on the Roof, and several of the dresses I made for Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

MBNews: What happens to the costumes after the production? 

Gerber: They are stored on campus in a few storage spaces. When doing a show the first thing I do is pull from our stock. There are many pieces that have been in several shows over the years.

MBNews: How long do you hope to continue doing the costumes for Mira Costa? 

Gerber: Excellent question. I just take it year by year.

(A costume from this year's production)

The Mira Costa Drama/Tech Department will present Peter and the Starcatcher at Mira Costa's Small Theater on select dates and times between November 3 through 11. Purchase your tickets here.

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