For over 50 years, Staples Players has served as a pre-professional launching pad. Hundreds of alums have gone on to rewarding, highly regarded — and sometimes even lucrative — careers in acting, directing, dancing, lighting and set design.
Now, add costuming to the list.
As a child growing up in Westport, Ben Zawacki was inspired by Broadway shows, Lincoln Center ballets, and of course Players productions.
He did not want to act. He played in the pit orchestra as a freshman, but the next year discovered the costume crew.
Dee Alexander — who designed costumes for all of director David Roth’s shows — took Ben under her wing. Working on Players shows — as well as her New Canaan High productions — Ben learned the craft quickly, and well.
The summer before senior year, he did an 8-week program at Carnegie Mellon. He studied scene and lighting design, painting, carpentry, and costume technology.
That last course opened up a new world. Costume technology became Ben’s major at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He learned everything from basic sewing skills to pattern making, advanced draping and tailoring.
From his first moment there, Ben wanted to become a professional draper in a costume shop.
A draper takes a costume designer’s rendering, and brings it to a wearable form. He creates all the patterns, and does all the costume fitting — while managing the team that cuts and stitches the fabric. They’re always on deadline.
Over 5 summers at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Ben worked his way up from intern to head draper. Now he’s assistant draper at Tricorne LLC, building costumes for Broadway, TV, film, opera and dance.
“I love the magic of watching a designer’s sketch become a 3-D work of art that can withstand 8 shows a week,” Ben says.
A good draper needs a good sense of math — and a good sense of the human form.
“I went to school with self-taught sewing skills, and only able to read a commercial pattern,” Ben explains.
“Now I can hard-tailor a man’s coat, make bias cut and period gowns, all while creating my own patterns.” He is detail-oriented — not just about what the audience sees, but how a garment is finished on the inside. “We don’t take any shortcuts,” Ben says.
He certainly has not taken any shortcuts in his career — though he’s made a big impression, in a brief time.
And he makes it look sew easy.