Master costume builder Annette Garceau, the last surviving member of team that founded the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, died August 6 at age 103, Playbill has learned.
After beginning her career as a dressmaker in her native London (though she spoke with a lifelong French accent), Garceau assembled costumes for the regional theatre for nearly 40 years, starting with its founding in 1963. She had begun her theatre career in London. Her first assignment for the London theater was to finish a pair of trunk hose for Alec Guinness, who was appearing in a production of Hamlet. She got further experience at London’s Old Vic Theatre and at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon.
Garceau was originally recruited by director Tyrone Guthrie to be part of the design team that included Tanya Moiseiwisch and Ray Diffen to set up shop at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, in 1953. A decade later the same team helped found Guthrie’s namesake theatre across the border in Minnesota.
During her four-decade tenure there, it was Garceau’s job to take the sketches drawn by costume designers and make them come to life with cloth, buttons, and stitches for dozens of productions including classics Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Mary Stuart.
According to a Guthrie statement on her death, “Her mission was to transform designers’ sketches into patterns, to drape and cut the fabric so that the costume would express the character the actor was to portray, and to supervise every detail of costume production, from the creation of basic but essential undergarments to the construction of lavish, sweeping, fur-trimmed capes, elaborate ball gowns, ruffs and highly decorated vests and tunics. Her responsibility was to convey to the audience ‘the look’ of a show, and her artistic gifts set the standard for excellence in costume production, enriching theater everywhere. For Garceau, this work was always a labor of love.”
In her memoir, Heart of Glass, actor Wendy Lawless described Garceau as the Guthrie’s “resident siren,” adding that “all of the men, and some of the women, had lusted after her.”
Though Garceau is not listed in the Internet Broadway Database, a Guthrie Theater spokesperson said Garceau worked on costumes for Broadway productions The World of Suzie Wong and Waltz of the Toreadors.
Garceau occasionally traveled to Hollywood, New York, and back to London to design clothing for celebrities including Richard Burton, Ginger Rogers, Gypsy Rose Lee, Andy Griffith, Rosemary Clooney, Lorne Green, Christopher Plummer, and James Mason.
Garceau also taught graduate and master classes on the art of costume creation at the University of Minnesota and Canada’s National Theatre School in Montreal, Canada.
Garceau was twice honored for her contribution to theatre by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, once with a retrospective of her career and later with a Special Citation for Lifetime Achievement.
In a Studio Live Design story about Garceau’s 2002 retirement at age 89 (with the title “Draper Emerita”), Guthrie Director Joe Dowling said, “Her extraordinary career spans decades and continents. Annette Garceau’s contribution to the Guthrie Theater and the costume profession is simply enormous. With her artistry and craft, she set the standard for excellence.”