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Clothing Ebenezer Scrooge and Company

UNLV alumna Daniella Toscano’s task was to do something that’s been done thousands of times, yet make it look new. Go behind the scenes with the costume designer for 'A Christmas Carol.'

Arts & Culture  |  Dec 9, 2015  |  By Diane Russell
Daniella Toscano

Daniella Toscano designed the costumes for the Nevada Conservatory Theatre production of “A Christmas Carol.” The white gown, one of her favorite designs in this production, is worn by the Ghost of Christmas past. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Visions of sugarplums may be dancing in someone’s head this holiday season, but not in Daniella Toscano’s.

When she closes her eyes, the UNLV alum sees Dickensian characters — Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and those three well-known spectral representations of Christmases past, present, and yet-to-come.

She was the costume designer for Nevada Conservatory Theatre's production of the A Christmas Carol this year. So Toscano sees all those characters as well as the 700 costume pieces — gowns, trousers, jackets, hats, walking sticks, and nightshirts — it takes to clothe them.  

‘A Whole New Story’

Creating those costumes was both great fun and a great challenge, said Toscano, ’12 BA Studio Arts.

“I think because (A Christmas Carol) has been done so many times I had to proactively make an effort to get rid of all my preconceived notions and focus on the script that we were provided,” she said.

“I read the script as though it was a whole new story. That way I’m making a clear palette. I am reading what these characters are saying and then I create the visuals in my mind,” she said. “I pick up on cues. How do the characters speak to each other? It gives me maybe a sense of color or a sense of textures. Sometimes I see a whole outfit right then and there.”

Her personal favorite design in this Carol is the one she developed for MFA acting candidate Madison Kisst as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her favorite costume as worn on stage is the one that Lucy, portrayed by MFA acting candidate Stefanie Resnick, wears to the Christmas party given by Scrooge’s nephew. Of the latter, Toscano said, “Lucy is funny and flirty. Her party gown with its hoop skirt is boldly colored with lots of froufrou embellishments, so perfect for the character.”

Watch for It

For those who have not yet seen this year’s A Christmas Carol, some things to watch for when you go are:

• The Fezziwig party — Toscano said the scene brought candy to mind. As a result, all the characters are dressed in what she describes as “cotton candy colors and textures” with some candy cane mixed in.

• The nature/old world motif for the Ghost of Christmas Past — Toscano said that where that character often is portrayed as a jolly Santa spirit, Tuscano saw the character as being earthier and chose to use natural elements in the costume.

• The “blue world” inhabited by Ebenezer Scrooge and his family, including his sister and nephew — “I saw blue as their connecting colors and they are the only ones that live in that ‘blue world.’”

How She Got Her Start

Toscano, a Durango High School graduate who minored in theatre at UNLV, said she began drawing as a child. “I’ve always drawn people. For a while I wanted to be a character designer for animation. That’s the reason I went into art. But I also really like to sing, so I took some opera classes at UNLV.”

Eventually, she said, the love of character design morphed into costume design for theater.

It was at UNLV that she got her first "break.” She began by helping professors locate costume items for productions, for instance a necklace to accompany a specific dress. But then, just before she graduated in 2012, she was given the chance to be costume designer for her first show, the opera Carmen.

“It was amazing — a dream come true. I remember it being really stressful, though,” Toscano said. The elaborate production had a large and varied chorus, including men in (rented) military uniforms and a separate children's chorus.  

“It was getting to be crunch time, the last week of dress rehearsals, and (the costume for the lead character) Carmen wasn’t ready. The chorus already had two costume changes and Carmen wasn’t ready. I had a mini breakdown. Luckily the director (music professor and director of UNLV Opera Linda Lister) and stage manager Martha Banks, said, ‘It’s okay and we’re going to get through it’ and we did.”

Other Opportunities

Since then Toscano, who supports herself working two part-time jobs — one as a costume assistant in UNLV’s costume shop and one singing in a mini-opera show in the Grand Canal Shops at the Venetian, has designed the costumes for each spring’s UNLV Opera production.

“Every show I have done so far has been very different stylistically.” Elixir of Love, for instance, was set in contemporary Las Vegas, she said, adding that that meant designing outfits such as tourist wear and casino employee uniforms. Ariadne auf Naxos gave her a chance to design both retro and fantasy styles.

Next up for Toscano will be UNLV Opera’s production of La Boheme. In this production, she said, the famous opera is being given a modern twist.

Someday she would like to design costumes for a Shakespeare play. “I feel I could learn a lot. I have dealt with Shakespeare as a performer, but never as a designer.

“I would love to design (the opera) The Magic Flute one day because that show has so many fantastical elements to it. It would be a great opportunity to get creative and epic with it.”