Most of my costume design gigs are done in a freelance sort of manner. I’m contracted for the design of a particular show with a company and then I’m back out on my own. Right now, I am working in an entirely different setting. This fall, I was brought into a college theater department as their interim Costume Studio Manager while their costumer is away on maternity leave. I’m at Northwestern College’s Theater Department, which is an educational theater program. Every theater wants to make great productions and sell tickets, but here the main focus is to teach and mentor. The amazing productions and ticket sales are a by-product of the educational work we do. This is a great environment for me because I love to learn. I’m supposed to be doing the teaching here, but I learn as much as I teach, if not more.
It’s a cool gig because I am doing more than just designing a show and then scampering off. I’m way more involved with this theater than the others I freelance at because I am managing the entire studio. I have workers, a crew, budgets, a costume rental program to run, department meetings to attend, several deadlines to juggle, and I also have the responsibility of teaching all my students theater costume contruction and techniques through a very hands-on way. I’m also designing costumes for a production while I am here, but we have student designers that I mentor through the process. I am given about a dozen students for my costume crew, most of which have never sewn anything. I quick teach them how to use a machine and then we sew an entire show together. The students’ faces morph into wide-eyed panic when projects go from “Let’s practice a straight stitch” to “Okay, now stitch this dress together.” It’s fast-paced. It’s hard work. It’s rewarding. It’s theater.
Oh! And at this studio, I have my own office! Before we were too deep in chaos this semester, I made a little temporary nametag for outside of my temporary office. I figured I pick my own title of “costume studio ninja” because, really, who’s gonna stop me if I’m the one running the place?