With a vacuum in hand, Laila Jaffer sits at her crowded workspace in the Mission Playhouse attic gently cleaning costumes dating back to the early 1900s. For Jaffer, the Mission Playhouse stands as an important monument of our past, and more importantly, our history. And as the Playhouse’s newest historical costume intern, Jaffer firmly believes that our past is something that must never be forgotten.
A sophomore at New York University, Jaffer is tasked with preserving and documenting historical costumes that have been stored at the Mission Playhouse over a century ago. “It is my job to take each item, document each item and write a condition report so that we know exactly what state it’s in,” Jaffer notes.
To accomplish this task, Jaffer must shift through dozens of pieces of wardrobe in various levels of condition. “We found all of the pieces in these large wicker baskets where they weren’t being properly stored,” said Jaffer. “This was how they [the Mission Play actors] originally traveled with these costumes.” Though convenient at the time, these wicker baskets were originally designed for temporary transport, and not as the permanent home for dozens of historical pieces. Thus, it’s Jaffer’s responsibility to clean every item and to store them in covered racks or boxes, padding each piece with acid-free tissue paper to ensure that the fabrics maintain their integrity.
While costumes sometimes provide a visual nod to the past, for Jaffer, these Playhouse items provide an invaluable glimpse of culture and society back in the early twentieth century. “I’m really fascinated by the history of clothing and costuming,” Jaffer said. “I’m interested in how you can see the culture of a society and of a time through the clothing that was worn, and even more so in how that is reflected in costuming and art – how people wanted to present themselves.”
Aside from academics, the Mission Playhouse also holds a personal significance for Jaffer. “I grew up very close to the Mission Playhouse in Pasadena, so I definitely have memories of coming to the theater,” Jaffer said. Even at a young age, the Playhouse’s history made an indelible mark. “As a child, I’ve always admired how beautiful and old the building was, and the good condition it’s been in now considering the history of the building.”
Now, Jaffer has the opportunity to contribute to the Playhouse’s lineage by protecting its storied past. “I’m preserving history and holding on to things that remind us of our past. I think the past is something that should not be forgotten.”
Jaffer’s ten-week internship is partially funded by the city and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. You may read her blog on the Mission Playhouse’s website here.