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The making of Ursula

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Over 100 Dover-Sherborn middle school students are participating in the upcoming production of “The Little Mermaid,” and 70 of those cast members will require a change of costume during the show. The elaborate and creative costume plan is managed by Carmel Bergeron, a mathematics teacher at the middle school, and Laura Villalobos, a Dover-Sherborn resident and parent volunteer. While some of the costumes are bought or rented, a majority of them are made originally by parent volunteers, the director, and the middle school students themselves.

Every year, Ms. Mackay, director of the Dover-Sherborn musical productions, can be found hosting a “costume production house” in her Sherborn home. In her living room, there is a large table set up with sewing machines and heaps of sewing material. Parent volunteers sit at the table crafting magnificent costumes, which have the power of transforming a middle school student into sea witches, fish, mermaids, and princes. Several cast and crew members are sprawled across the floor, focused on gluing, cutting, and attaching pieces to the costumes. It has become an annual fall tradition for the theatre crew to gather at Ms. Mackay’s house, to laugh, talk and make magic together.

The procedure in which they constructed Ursula’s infamous tentacle gown required significant attention to detail and intricate craftsmanship. It started with piecing together different aspects of design ideas that were found by searching images on various websites, choosing the best ones that matched the director’s vision. The next step in the process involved scouring local craft and fabric stores to procure the various materials and supplies needed to make the costume. Lastly, a full day of cutting, sewing, stuffing, and gluing took place by the group of costume volunteers including cast members and parents.

The purple tentacles, which are a prominent design feature on the Ursula costume, proved to be a challenge. Crew members had to figure out a way to make the tentacles curve at the ends to more accurately depict an octopus-like creature, instead of hanging limp. After much brainstorming and testing, the idea to sew elastic material on the ends of each tentacle, enabling them to curl up, proved to be the best method.

“The hardest part is planning. Sometimes you have an idea, you start to sew, but things change or don’t work the way you intended, and you have to come up with new ideas to make it work. To avoid the tentacles becoming dead weight, we added and gathered elastics at the end of the tentacles to bring the costume to life and create movement.” said Laura Villalobos, the lead costume volunteer.

Two sixth grade students, Kelli Kamphaus and Niamh Sharpe, were tasked with gluing a significant number of green suction cups to Ursula’s purple tentacles. It took them a couple of hours to finish gluing the hundreds of suction cups onto the eight large tentacles, understanding that every detail makes an impactful difference.

Since Ursula creeps around in the darkness of the ocean, the costume will be lit by fiber optical lighting that changes color in order to illuminate her presence and provide a magic aura highlighting her evil powers. Fortunately, Thomas Bailey, a Dover resident and parent of a cast member, has significant experience in working with fiber optics. With his help, the costume crew will be attaching the fiber optics to a large black hoop skirt as part of the costume.

This is the fourth Dover-Sherborn middle school musical that Claire Mackay has directed. Mackay chose the musical for a variety of reasons. “Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ has been called ‘The Lion King’ under the sea with breathtaking visual effects. This enchanting, electrifying musical, which will appeal to both children and adults alike, combines the best of the beloved animated film with the magic of live theatre. Our production at DSMS contains a lot of original staging and several exciting surprises. ‘The Little Mermaid’ is an enchanting, heartwarming show with an important message about love and following your dreams that families in our area will definitely not want to miss!”

The Dover Sherborn Middle School will present the musical “The Little Mermaid” in the Dover-Sherborn Mudge Auditorium from Thursday, December 7, through Saturday, December 9, including a Saturday matinee.

Tickets will be available at the door for $15 per person or online at starting on November 18. The musical is enjoyable for the whole family.

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