Warrior Words: To live again

I step forward and the sound fades, swallowed by the cotton and the wool. The chattering of backstage dies to a dulled whisper, and with a second step, it disappears entirely.

I stand in a dim tunnel of fabric, walled in by cavernous racks of costumes, each one suspended above the next from the floor to the distant ceiling. White dresses pouf from their hangers, spilling down in lacy splendor over endless rows of stately suit jackets and slick tweed blazers. Hats of all sizes stack haphazardly against the far wall, piling up to the tiny windows in the back. Stripes and polka dots explode out from the quieter tones — no pattern is unrepresented, no style unfindable. And amongst these clothes from days gone by, the dust motes swirl gently, beckoning me deeper into this universe of color and silence.

The high school costume room is a singular place — an archive of past performances, where memories leap to life. On my left, a ragged row of trousers remind me of the desperate beggars of Les Misérables and the abandoned orphans of Oliver. On the other side, a jumble of pirate hats and wooden swords brings to mind Peter Pan, igniting a memory of the battle between the buccaneers and the Lost Boys.

Occasionally I come across a specific costume I’m sure I’ve seen before — perhaps this gaudy dress was donned by Madame Thenardier? Or maybe that rough cloak belonged to Hamlet or Laertes? Mrs. Koz, our beloved producer and costume designer, can identify on sight which clothes were worn in which show, and even by which character. As she fits us for the current production, she may bestow on us the bold vest of Enjolras or the ragged violet coat of the Artful Dodger (if it fits).

There is something deeply human about this passing on of history from one generation of actors to the next. It is an overarching sense of continuity, felt as one show sheds its costumes so they can be redesigned for the next production. When a costume is worn again, its former identity is reshaped by a different student and a fresh plot. It is the same and yet altered, changed by its wearer to fit a new purpose.

The great tunnel of fabric — the costume room — is a place where history and identity intersect, where the story of humanity is told in miniature through buttons and shoes and buckles. This spring, when I hang up my high school costumes for the final time, I hope that they, too, shall find a place amongst the others, and that someday, they may be taken down to live again.

Chase Smith is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with five classmates.