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TBA Online: News & Features: August 2015

How Did They Do That?: Thrillpeddlers' "Club Inferno"

Monday, August 10, 2015   (0 Comments)
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By Lily Janiak

It was three days before opening, and to introduce me to his latest costuming dilemma, designer Jim Kumiega began, “At one point, in the fifth layer of hell…”

“You can’t really go to the store and buy a Cleopatra outfit,” even if you had the money, says Kumiega. 
Noah Haydon as Cleopatra in
Club Inferno, Thrillpeddlers' riff on Dante's classic text, The Divine Comedy.


Kumiega is one of three main designers (the others are Tina Sogliuzzo & Glenn Krumbholz) on the costume team for Club Inferno, a glam rock adaptation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, by the Thrillpeddlers. In it, Danté (Peggy L’eggs), a nightclub performer, gets knocked on the head by a stage light and then descends through nine circles of hell, which feature Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter, Judy Garland, Aimee Semple-McPherson, and, in the fifth circle, Marie Antoinette, Jayne Mansfield, and Isadora Duncan. Not an obvious trio, you protest? They would be in hell—and they were all (at least as lore has it) killed at the neck.

Though this threesome’s dresses, out of the show’s more than 50 costumes, were Kumiega’s focus the evening we met, Marie Antoinette’s, in a way, has been 15 years in the making. Club Inferno was first performed in 2000, at Paradise Lounge, a mere three blocks from Thrillpeddlers’ Hypnodrome, and Kumiega served as costume designer on that version of the production as well, when performers had to quick-change in the men’s room. (Another major benefit of performing at the Hypnodrome instead of a night club? “We have the ability to leave the costumes here between shows,” says Kumiega.)

To create the topmost of the multiple layers of Marie Antoinette’s gown, he used fabric that was part of a costume in the first show—a redolent choice in a production that’s all about ghosts.

Marie Antoinette's ghostly gown, designed 
by Jim Kumiega. Photo: Lily Janiak 
  Repurposed fabrics find new life in Marie      
  Antoinette's dress. Photo: Lily Janiak


Jayne Mansfield’s dress featured an altogether different set of layers. The actor playing her, Diogo Zavadzki, is quite thin, so to suggest Mansfield’s famous curves, Kumiega lined the gown with egg crate foam, which adds not just heft but the lumpy texture of human flesh. When I asked how he cleans such a material, Kumiega didn’t hesitate: “Febreze and vodka water.”

Kumiega shows the egg crate foam stitched into
the Jayne Mansfield costume. Photo: Lily Janiak
  The finished Jayne mansfield dress, complete with
  foam-rubber curves. Photo: Lily Janiak














The gown that posed the most surprising problem was Isadora Duncan’s. To accentuate the trio’s beheadings, the gowns were all supposed to glow in the dark during a blackout scene, but the team didn’t check the lights until just a couple of nights before our interview. “Marie Antoinette looked great, Jayne looked great, but Isadora Duncan did not glow at all. She did not pop,” said Kumiega. At first, he tried to spraypaint the fabric with a couple of different white paints, hoping that would better reflect the black light, but it didn’t make much difference.

The Isadora Duncan dress, with synthetic upper
layers to improve its visibility under black light.
Photo: Lily Janiak 

He then determined he’d have to replace the material, which was a white cotton gauze. He dug into the Thrillpeddlers’ reserves and tried out a poly-blend fabric, which looked much more promising in the black light. “It’s something about the synthetics, the finish of the yarn,” he concluded.

Kumiega said the costume design process for Club Inferno has been all about repurposing. “You can’t really go to the store and buy a Cleopatra outfit,” even if you had the money, he said. Kumiega said he worked on probably a dozen shows in the ‘90s and early 2000s but hasn’t designed costumes in recent years. “I probably wouldn’t have hopped out of my safe box for any other show,” he remarked—before diving back into the fifth circle of hell.


Lily Janiak is development manager for New Conservatory Theatre Center