Some people like to read Playbills, and others choose to collect them, but Dara and Sterling Biegert like to sew Playbills into wearable art. The mother-daughter duo have found creative common ground designing intricate dresses made out of recycled Playbills. While neither work in fashion design or costuming (Dara works in human resources, Sterling in the travel industry), their creations push the boundaries of recycled fashion and unconventional creativity.
Their reclaimed regalia, which started with a simple mini dress, has blossomed into intricate full length couture creations, including replicas of iconic theatrical costumes. Playbill sat down with the pair shortly after BroadwayCon 2022, where Sterling and Dara wowed onlookers with their Wicked inspired renditions of Elphaba’s Act II gown and Madame Morrible’s Emerald City ruffled robe. The two easily won the annual Cosplay Contest. Speaking on Zoom (Sterling lives in Florida, Dara lives in Texas), the two discuss their artistic process, the joy of creating, and why Playbill perfectly encapsulates their love of theatre.
How did this all start?
Dara Biegert: I’ve been sewing since I was about 7, and I’m 61 now. We watched Project Runway a lot, and they did a lot of unconventional challenges, and Sterling had the idea to make a dress out of Playbills.
Sterling Biegert: I wanted an actual outfit, not something that was too costumey, that would get people talking about Broadway when I wore it, talking about different shows and meeting new people, making new friends. And, of course, to make people smile.
What are the challenges with making such an intricate outfit out of Playbills?
Dara: Well, we live in two separate states, so when we did that first dress [which was a mini-dress], I made a duct tape bodice during a visit. She’d put on a tank top, I’d wrap her in duct tape, and then I’d cut it off and use that as my mannequin body form. Fittings require crossed fingers because paper is harder to hem than fabric! That’s why the first few dresses were all short, and they didn’t have sleeves. We had always talked about the Elphaba costume, but we had to work up to it.
Sterling: We started with the first Playbill dress, and then thought about how we could up it from there. Wicked is one of our favorite shows. It is so iconic, and it is something that you can make out of paper and people will still recognize what character you are. It took a lot of trial and error with the other Playbill dresses to learn how to make long, tight sleeves that I can move around in, how to make a floor-length skirt, everything.
Our other biggest challenge when working with paper is getting it to last. People say, “Oh, do you just wear it for one day, and then toss it?” No, we try to make them so they can be worn every single day of BroadwayCon and then take it home to put on display. It is tricky to get it to withstand moving around other people and crowds. I have to be very careful to get it home in relatively one piece.
It's beautiful to see how making this art has brought you closer together.
Sterling: Honestly, I couldn’t make any of this happen without my mom. I know it sounds kinda cheesy, but if you gave me scissors and a glue stick, I would have a panic attack. I’m not good at the execution. She’s magic, and she makes my dreams come true by bringing them to life.
When I moved to Florida, it was very, very difficult for us to be that far apart. We’ve always been close, she’s been my best friend since I was very, very little. This is something that we can always look forward to, the collaboration keeps us close even if we are physically apart.
Any clues you can give us about next year’s dress?
Dara: We’re considering a cape for next year, something that shows more of the covers of the Playbills. The difficult thing about Elphaba’s dress is that I had to pick all dark pages, so it was hard to add any color, or any of the bright yellow Playbill banners. Next year I want it to be bright, I want people to come up and check how many of the shows they’ve seen.
Sterling: It’s amazing the people you get to meet wearing something unique, and the friendships that form by having a conversation starter on your body. Playbill is iconic Broadway, it is everything to me. It is where you get to find out about all your favorite casts and crews: from a costume designer, to the director, to the main stars, to the understudies. When I go to a musical, I read the Playbill from front to back, even the ads!
We have collected Playbills over the years, and people donate some to us now. When we turn them into these dresses, it reminds people of the history — trying to name all of the shows, looking for ones you have seen or for actors you know. It’s like a scrapbook of theatre memories. Playbills are so precious, and making these dresses gives them another life.