ArtsAlive.ca – The Secret Life of Costumes
image:History of the NAC Costume CollectionBy Gerry Grace, NAC Archivist

History of the NAC Costume Collection
By Gerry Grace, NAC Archivist


Have you ever wondered what happens to a performance when actors, directors, designers, technicians and audiences are finished with it, and the final curtain goes down? An often-repeated statement is that theatrical performance exists only for the moment, and then vanishes. This is true. Yet it is possible to preserve material traces of a dramatic performance for study; traces which reveal insight into what the production was like, including information on the artists, craftspeople and technicians involved, how the production looked and sounded, the historical context, the words spoken, and the music played.

While performance is impossible to fully document, some of the enduring records and artifacts of performance hold meaning and significance.

Costume design is an integral part of the collaborative creative process of a theatrical production. The NAC Costume Collection, which we invite you to take an in-depth look at through this website, is an important part of the theatrical memory that the NAC Archive preserves. The collection highlights the work of many of Canada’s (and a few of the world’s) best designers for the stage. Wearing the costumes in archival photographs featured in this presentation are many of Canada’s finest professional actors and singers.

But first, a little bit about how the collection came together.