Dressing the Cast of Super Smash Opera

liz-youtube-screencapIn today’s blog update, costume designer Liz Rishel walks us through how the wardrobe was created: “When designing the costumes for Super Smash Opera, a lot of considerations had to be made. I am costuming characters that the audience needs to recognize immediately from the game. I have to costume actors that need to change their clothes in a matter of seconds and appear on stage as a different character (the term for that is a “quick-change,” in case you’re wondering.) I have to be sure that the costumes convey the “traditional opera” feel of the music. And, of course, I have to stay within a budget of essentially nil. So, yeah- a lot of considerations.

One of the things I knew right off the bat was that none of the characters could be dressed in the full attire of their character, with all the props and details- there just wouldn’t be enough time to put them all on. So I used the “opera” feel to essentially create a classical gesture of the character’s look rather than copy their costume exactly. This required me to break down what is most recognizable of each character and go from there. Luckily, I inherited a very flashy stash of fabric from a friend, Robin Geisler, that I could use as free base materials, saving a lot of money. That was the easy part. But each of the characters presented their own challenges.


DSC04189 copyJesse is from San Francisco, and he attended rehearsals remotely via Google Hangouts, which means that I couldn’t measure or fit any of his costumes before we were on site. For Mario, that wasn’t too much of a problem, because I built a “fat suit” hoop into his coveralls to make him appear bigger, so it didn’t need to be fitted, and held its own shape independently of him. (Note: I actually loved how the fat suit looked. Especially when he fell on the ground, and the hoop kind of flopped over. Loved it!) What I did need to fit, was his mustache, which I stitched onto the hat in the hour or so that we were rehearsing before the show started.

Jesse - Star FoxStar Fox wasn’t too bad, because I asked Jesse to bring his own black pants and shirt. The ears were hot-glued onto a helmet that I bought consignment (all the purchased wardrobe items with very few exceptions were bought consignment), and the tail was attached to a belt that matched his jacket. As for the jacket, I knew that Star Fox needed his signature short jacket, so I bought one based on the measurements that Jesse sent me, and detailed it with some of the stash fabric to make it look more like an opera hero’s clothes. Luckily, Sean is similar in size to Jesse, so I was able to ask him to model the jacket to help give me a baseline to work with. The gloves are some gamer gloves I own, and the bandanna completed the look.
(Sidenote: When Jesse wasn’t present for dress rehearsals, my sister/our stage manager/puppet fabricator, Marj, had to stand in and wear his costumes, and looked hilarious in the Mario suit. She had her own separate mustache and everything!)


DSC04198 copySean had to change between Luigi and Ganondorf in the blink of an eye. I made sure he was able to get in and out of his coveralls without taking off his shoes before I put the details on. The Luigi look wasn’t too hard because it was the complementary mirror of Mario. Once I found the coveralls for both, I was able to make them the same with my matching fabric stash. I was going for a look that was an operatic cross between the games and the movie (yeah, yeah, I know- not cannon- which we make a joke about in the show), but also to conceal anything that the actors might have to wear underneath. Neither looked right without the gloves or hat, DSC04265 copybut Marj had made me and herself matching Mario Bros. hats on account of our preferences coincidentally lining up with our own initials (Marj = Mario, Liz = Luigi. Get it? Sidenote: Sorry Marj, I told the story. Never promised I wouldn’t.) So we had that.

File Jun 08, 10 21 20 PMGanondorf was a little tricky, because I really had to think about what was most recognizable about his costume that we could imitate easily. He wears full armor, which we could never afford or get him into on time, so I narrowed that down to a streamlined breastplate, attached with elastic and plastic clasps. I made the breastplate using a technique of papier-mâché-ing fabric strips onto a mannequin using liquid latex and painted with latex house paint. (This process needed to be started very early, and probably took the longest time of any of the costumes, since the layers needed to dry in between applications.) This created a very durable structure that could withstand the abuse of on-stage combat. Once, I added the cape, belt, and crownpiece (assembled from assorted jewelry,) I was satisfied that he projected the proper silhouette, and fulfilled my “classical opera meets recognizable character” goals. Thanks to the plastic clasps, it was also fast to get into, which was a real bonus.


DSC04405 copyJim played the Master Hand, and required no quick-changes, so it was easy to decide to make him a straight-up opera villain. Since the Master Hand has no bodily appearance, we decided to convey the gravity of his character through a very serious suit/cape/mask look for him as the puppeteer. This lended some opulence to his character, and, since he was the first character to grace the stage, to communicate to the audience immediately the nature and style of this production. The cape was a dress cape that I made many years ago for Bonnie, to match one of my own, so it was nice to have that full-length piece already completed from the beginning at no additional expense.


DSC04333 copyBonnie played Link and Jigglypuff, and had to change quickly. She also played an Ice Climber with me. We decided early that anyone who puppeteers should be dressed in simple black (with the exception of Master Hand, of course). Bonnie wore her own black clothing for Jigglypuff (puppet designed by Marjorie Rishel), and I added a green zip-down tunic-with-attached-belt and matching hat for her to be link. She and Jim were most certainly the easiest to costume for… unless you count……

Ice Climbers

DSC04244 copyWe went through a few concept sketches of how I was going to design the Ice Climber costume/puppets, but the one I liked was probably the weirdest one, because I am a fan of all things strange. I decided that we should enjoy the uncanniness of having our own heads be the faces, pasted onto tiny bodies with our hands as the dancing feet. I had never made a puppet body before, so I essentially designed a tiny coat and tiny pants and then stuffed them with fluff. The shoes I left open in the back for our hands. I added a hoodie hood with a fat ring of fluff to hold it snug to our heads, and then some foam hammers to be permanently fixed into the hands. Marj made the temporary faces that we put inside so the Ice Climbers File Jun 08, 10 20 51 PMcould be in the opening song without being creepy, faceless husks… we saved that joke for later.

Last but not least,

me (Liz) with the craziest costume change in the show.

DSC04211 copyBecause I’m a glutton for punishment,…. sorry, that’s a little bleak- let me try that again. Because I’m a glutton for challenges, I created a song in which Zelda sings while transforming into Sheik on stage. The good part was that I could try on the costume as many times as was necessary to get the right fit and look into what was essentially a breakaway dress/bodice combination. Of course, I re-wrote the lyrics before I made the costume, so I was additionally challenged with how to convey what I wrote through movement. The breakaway dress was a complete build- a fitted sheet of white fabric attached at the sides with magnets. Once that was built, I sewed on a bodice base that I could spin out of.

But there came the problem- how can I quickly spin out of something that DSC04279 copyhas sleeves? Even short ones would get in the way. I couldn’t do without the sleeves because I had to be wearing the Sheik shirt underneath, and it had to be concealed while I was playing Zelda. The solution occurred to me that I should make the sleeves attach in the front like overalls, and I could disconnect them on the correct lyric, an instant before the spin. At the same time that Matt grabbed the snag point on my dress for the spin, Mary Lou handed me my head-covering, tabard, and wristies to complete the look for the rest of the song. We rehearsed this number many times with me and the crew to get the look just right. Their patience is awesome and commendable.  Check out a detailed video on how the Zelda Transformation Dress was constructed here.

Everyone worked really hard with me to make sure their costumes were well-fitting, kept clean, and carefully organized. Costuming is hard, but very rewarding work, especially when working with a cast and crew of professionals who know how to respect the wardrobe and relish the end result.”

– article written by costume designer Liz Rishel