From New York theatres to Netflix dramas, Darren McGranaghan offers a behind the scenes glimpse into the making of wardrobes in the entertainment world.
Sometimes we don’t notice what actors are wearing in TV, film and theatre, while other times it’s their clothing that transports the audience to a place and time outside our normal world.
One Donegal expat has been working his way through the costume departments of some of the biggest shows in the US, and Donegal Woman caught up with him for an inside look into his creative livelihood.
Darren McGranaghan is a young Ballybofey man who has been in the costuming teams of major TV series including Orange is the New Black and The OA, as well as New York theatre shows and musicals. He lists the multi-award winning Broadway hit Hamilton in his portfolio, as well as Buzzer starring Tessa Ferrer and Grounded, starring Anne Hathaway.
“Hamilton was probably the most challenging production,” Darren says. He had just moved to New York and started working at The Public Theater when he found himself thrust into the costume department of the smash-hit 18th century hip hop musical.
“I remember being sent to buy fabric in the garment district on my first day, which was something I had never done before so I was terrified! I very much had to hit the ground running.
“This was at the very early stages of production and it would be over another year before Hamilton opened on Broadway. It had a bit of a buzz as previews started because Lin-Manuel Miranda already had a small following from a previous musical, but every day the crowds grew until it was almost impossible to get through the lobby of the theatre,” Darren says.
Darren recalls the moment when it struck him how huge Hamilton had become: “On the night Brian d’Arcy James did his last off-Broadway show as King George III, Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were backstage in the green room meeting the cast and at the same time I walked past Jake Gyllenhaal in the corridor when I happened to be returning towels from another show!”
Darren worked on various elements of ensembles in the historical themed show, including capes and shoes, and specifically remembers spending days sewing period style buckles to dance shoes for the cast.
The NYC entertainment scene is not all bright lights and glamour, Darren points out. “Costume design isn’t a very glamorous job and it requires a lot of flexibility and patience,” he admits, listing long hours, long waits and hauling clothing as regular requirements.
The former IT Sligo Performing Arts student clearly loves his career, which is unpredictable, challenging, and most of all, fun.
“In Public Studios I was Wardrobe Supervisor, where I would do quick changes and plan the specifics of those changes with the actors. For one show I had to change an actress out of a dress and a pregnancy pad and into a shirt and pants in 30 seconds. It’s fun but it’s… a lot,” he says.
After The Public Theater, Darren progressed to TV projects for Netflix and ABC. As a costume PA he has helped bring to life the ideas of writers in top dramas.
Darren joined Orange is the New Black in Season 4, but, we had to ask, isn’t that costume department mostly all… orange?
“There are the flashback scenes that people forget about,” Darren points out, “Most are in the 1990s and 2000s, and it can be difficult to find that clothing now. The designer would do research and the team would help source costumes that would recreate the look, like for a gang scene from the 2000s in the Bronx.”
It’s not always easy to find the perfect pieces, and Darren said he has had to make some unusual requests of stockists over the years: “It can be tough finding 10 pairs of the same pants in the same size, this is necessary for a lot of reasons for example if someone is being drowned, or even if you’re doing a scene with kids in school uniforms!”
Subtle costume effects can be just as important to stories as the scripts, as fans of The OA will know.
“The characters’ clothes degrade over the process of them being held captive, so we needed costumes of different levels of distress. It was one person’s job to distress all the time, and she sometimes had two assistants because the workload was so intense,” Darren reveals.
The key to good costuming, Darren said, is that it is not usually noticed by the viewer. “If it was wrong you would notice, and I often notice things myself now, like continuity errors in movies.”
Darren says his best career moments in the competitive and ever-changing NYC theatre and TV world have largely arisen from luck and chance.
“Shortly after I arrived in New York one of my former lecturers from IT Sligo also happened to be here with a show he had first designed the set for in Derry. I knew who the costume designer was so I forced myself to walk up to her after the first preview and introduce myself, she then introduced me to her assistant who ended up hiring me for Hamilton. So, it was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time, and putting myself out there,” he said.
Darren moved from show to show through friends, contacts and recommendations. For young hopefuls aiming to make it in the industry, Darren advises them to begin with hard work in internships.
“Reach out for internships in theatres that you admire and want to work for. It’s better to apply for places that do shows you’re interested in because you’ll get lot more out of it and possibly enjoy it more. I’d definitely recommend The Public Theater and Signature Theatre. At their level you’ll meet a lot of amazing people and learn a lot.”
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