MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As a kid, he dreamed about creating costumes. And not just any costumes, but for characters like Kermit, the Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Miss Piggy.
That dream turned into a reality for DJ Gramann shortly after college, but his family recognized his talents at the young age of 10.
“One of the things that totally relates to my work now, that I was really sensitive to then, was the Miss Piggy I saw on TV and the puppet that they sold in the store — the head and the body were not the right proportion,” Gramann said.
You could say that was his training ground for his first job, at Jim Henson Production in New York City.
“I was a creature builder, so I didn’t actually build puppets I was in more of what they considered the costume department. So we built full body costumes for ‘Sesame Street Live,'” Gramann said.
After he had enough of the Big Apple, he accepted a freelance position at the Guthrie Theater, working the Shakespeare classic “King Lear.” It was a 10-week stint, but he ended up staying in Minneapolis.
Gramann calls the Guthrie one of the nation’s best theaters and has taken on the title of draper for the last decade.
“I’m responsible for taking the sketch off the page,” Gramann said.
He works firsthand with the costume designer. In essence, his job is to decide how the piece is going to function as a garment as well as for actors onstage.
“I would do the patterning, the correcting, and sort put together the overall construction of the garment,” Gramann said.
He has said he’s always been excited about a pile of raw materials. He and his team have been working on sewing and stitching two shows running this holiday season: “The Lion in Winter” and “A Christmas Carol.”
This is Gramann’s third year working on “A Christmas Carol”s Mrs. Fezziwig, who this year is played by Katie Bradley.
“I have a lot of affection for Mrs. Fezziwig. It is a departure from all of the other clothes because we’re back 30 years, but she’s also the mother,” Gramann said. “In this time period its a very open neckline an very [heavy] emphasis on having cleavage and having the bust high as possible, but it’s also a family friendly story so you have to balance that.”
He said he has numerous conversations with the actors throughout the design process.
Gramann showed WCCO some off the costumes from “The Lion in Winter,” a play set in a cold castle during Christmas 1183.
“This was a very organic process, the design of the costumes for ‘The Lion in Winter’ and the actor participated a lot in that process,” he said.
Eleanor the Queen is played by St. Paul native Laila Robins. Gramann said he worked with her very closely.
“We were willing to sacrifice some of the period details so that we could have them looking good,” Gramann said, referring to the queen’s costume.
Last minute decisions can keep his team busy up until showtime.
“The sequins are then catching on other parts of the fabric while she is performing, so we are actually going in with black bridal tulle and covering it up,” Gramann said.
While he may not be singing or smiling onstage, he is a big part of the final product; that’s what keeps him excited year after year.
“It’s just kind of a magic piece that I can create contributing to the overall dynamic of what we do in theater and in storytelling, and effectively changing communities and thought processes in the world,” he said.
DJ Gramann worked on the movie “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” building the Ghost of Christmas Present with Jim Glavan.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 30, and “The Lion in Winter” runs through Dec. 31.