Tag Archives: Northwestern College

Ah, Wilderness! Costume Design

One of the plays I recently worked on was Ah, Wilderness! by Eugene O’Neill.  I was the costume designer for the Northwestern College Theater Department’s production of it this fall.  I’ve never been part of an O’Neill production before, but I’m glad it was this one. I hear it is his happiest/funniest/most light–hearted script.  Like all of his plays, he includes a lot of overlapping themes: family, love, alcoholism, hope, teen rebellion, independence.

FACT: This was my very first ever historical costume design!

I don’t know how I’ve made it this long as a costumer without doing a historical costume design, but I have.  I mean, I have been part of historical plays, but always with non-traditional design concepts and costumes.  I’m hired for alot of avant-garde projects, or projects with descriptions that end with “with a twist!”  I’m really good at blending themes and creating imaginitve worlds, so a straight up historical play with traditional, historical costumes just had never come my way.  I’m happy to have this one in my portfolio, for sure. What kind of costumer doesn’t have any historical plays under their belt?

Miller family room

Ah, Wilderness! is set in 1906.  I went into this design with a kinda/sorta/almost working knowledge of this time period.  Which means, I did a lot of research.  I loved all the old photographs I came across.  My very favorites were Edward Linley Sambourne’s street fashion photos.  (Sambourne did street fashion photography before street fashion photography was cool.)  He snuck photographs of women while they were out and about.  This is a little creepy, but now we have all these amazing images of Edwardian clothing showing what they wore day-to-day and how they moved in it versus what they wore for formal pictures as they posed stiffly.  These photos are a treasure and they were really helpful for my research.

With the costumes, I really wanted to highlight how strong the ties of family were throughout this play.  I used a tight color scheme of blues, blacks, whites, creams & greys to show the family.  They looked great all together, but could still interact with the rest of the world as individuals.

Miller dining room

My favorite character in this play is probably Norah, the Miller family’s maid.  She has a fairly minor role, but provides a lot of exasperation to the matron of the house and consequently, a lot of humor to the audience.

Norah, the Miller family’s maid

Some of the costume renderings of the family members I created were left uncolored.  I did this because I knew my Miller color scheme and I needed a bit of flexibility since we were on a huge time crunch.  This allowed my crew to move quickly to collect/alter/build pieces to assemble each outfit without the constraints of creating the EXACT garment in the EXACT shade portrayed.  Normally, this isn’t how I design, but I think it was a successful choice for this show.

Lily Miller

Tommy Miller

Norah, the Miller family maid


Posted by on 12.09.12 in Costumes


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How I Spent my Fall Semester

Since the morning after the Omaha Fashion Week Finale Runway Show in August, I’ve been in Orange City, IA working as an interim Costume Studio Manager for Northwestern College’s Theater Department.  I had zero recovery days after the chaos that is known as Fashion Week.  While it was a bit of an exhausting transition to go from runway work straight into a fast-paced theater costuming gig, I truly love my work.  Here at Northwestern College, I teach, I learn, I laugh, I love.

Instructing a student on how to stitch trim onto some belts we made.

NWC has one of the nicest costume studios I’ve ever worked in.  Most kind of have that “super cluttered basement” feel to them.  This one is big and bright with TONS of windows and the workspace is pretty much clutter-free.   It makes me want to cut down on the clutter in my own studio, which is always a challenge for someone who loves to collect fabric and supplies.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a bazillion large storage rooms to help keep my workspace completely clutter-free, so I just try to keep it under control

Showing NWC theater students how to create whiskers on masks.

Despite the great workspace, after three months on Orange City, I’m definitely ready to come home. Orange City is a small, conservative town that makes me miss Omaha, my Homaha SO MUCH.  I will also miss the NWC theater department when I leave.  They all also love to teach, learn, laugh, love.

Photo credit: Stephen Allen Photography


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audio helkuik: temporary costume studio ninja

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?

audio helkuik: temporary costume studio ninja


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