Our spotlight on our volunteers continues with Sandy Schuitema and Katy Kenyon. Both of them are two of the people who create magic in our costume shop. They both shared how the volunteers are a family and how Civic Theatre has become their second home.
Sandra has been a volunteer at Civic Theatre for years. “I started here in 1991 in the concessions stand. Retirement brought me up to the costume shop. The first play I worked on was Hello Dolly in 2011.” She said that she was immediately put to work in the best way. “I didn’t even know how to control a machine but got dropped in the deep end and never looked back.” Since those first days, Sandra has contributed multiple hours in the shop which have earned her various recognitions marking 500, 750, and 1000 hours of volunteerism.
Schuitema shared how her favorite part of those hours is being able to watch a show develop from start to finish. “I like just being here and watching a play come together. We get to see the internal workings that create a show.” She also mentioned that her time in the costume shop has permeated her life outside of the theatre as well, “Now when I go to a movie or watching something on TV I am only focused on the costumes. I will be sitting there figuring out how they did a zipper or looking at the pleats!” She mentioned part of what makes costumes so exciting is because she knows the level of quality that will happen from the people wearing them. “I am a lover of what we do here…and it doesn’t hurt to be able to see shows for free! I started going to Civic Theatre for plays back in 1968 over on Leonard Street. I was blown away by the talent in this town. I had the opportunity to go to London at one point and see Man of La Mancha with the original cast…I thought we did a better job.”
Some of the most common questions we receive are about costumes so Schuitema filled us in on their process: Fowle conceptualizes, cast comes up for measurements, and then they get to work! They have cards for every single person who has been in a production. Bob then cuts everything to prepare for the volunteers. She said that either Bob will have a basket for each of them with items to serge or they go to the racks, find an outfit with a tag on it, and alter it.
The assignments can look different from show to show. For example, for Akeelah and the Bee she did a lot of labeling (each piece of clothing is tagged and assigned to a cast member) but for Les Miserables she worked on the bride’s gown. She emphasized how each item is customized down to the shoes, “Today we are working on shoe bedazzling and shoe painting. People don’t know that. The only thing that comes into this shop in a box are the shoes and they don’t stay like that either. Everything is made from the skin out and fitted to our cast.”
She said that with all of this customization, the varying levels of experience among the volunteers comes in handy. She said that there are varying levels of skill; one of the volunteers has been sewing her entire life while others really developed their skills in the shop. “Bob is fabulous…he is a patient teacher especially since we are all so different. We have hygienists, engineers, computer experts, teachers, businesswomen…so I get to sit up here and learn. We all bring a different expertise in life and when it comes to sewing.”
Schuitema has booked 1000+ hours to date as a volunteer. It’s individuals like her that keep Civic Theatre growing and exciting. “When you get up here it’s a wonderful vortex. It’s heartwarming to be up here with other fantastic women and men. We are a dysfunctional family with a lot of love.”
Katy’s journey with Civic Theatre started thanks to her kids! Her son and daughter-in-law bought her a gift card to the theatre for Christmas. She remembers going on the site to look at the shows and seeing a page for Volunteer Opportunities. “I started reading through everything and getting excited. When I saw Costume Shop I knew that would be perfect. I love to sew and make costumes…my kids always had elaborate costumes for things. I clicked, went to the volunteer orientation, and that was it!”
Six years and 500 hours later, you can still find Katy in what she now calls her ‘second home.’ Her volunteerism at Civic Theatre continues to be connected to her family. She got to make Belle’s iconic yellow dress for Beauty and the Beast and made matching ones for her granddaughters who wore them to the show.
Kenyon said she loves getting to hear the actors comment on their garments. She often hears ‘this is the best fitting thing I have ever put on.’ There’s a great pride with this group and the fact that each piece is custom tailored to the individual actor. Every item you have seen on stage was completely fitted for that person.
“So many people ask where we rent or buy our costumes from. Pretty much each item is made from scratch. A lot of time and attention is put into them. After shows they are stored so we do re-use certain things and also allow high schools or other groups to use them. Our costumes have gone all around the country.”
Katy’s time as a seamstress began as a child when her mom introduced her and encouraged her to try it. She mentioned that even after all of these years one of the aspects of volunteering that she loves is learning new things. “Volunteering at Civic Theatre has combined a lot of things that I have enjoyed throughout my life. I would check the Rogers and Hammerstein song book out of the library, read the words, and try to make up the music part of it. Eventually I got to see those movies and fell in love with the music so of course musicals are my favorite. I really enjoy sewing as well…volunteering at Civic brings all of those things together!”
She said that beyond helping her explore what she loves, that she appreciates the diversity you can find at Civic Theatre. She shared the beauty of there being a place for everyone. Like Sandra, she spoke to how the volunteers (especially up in the costume shop) are a family and the love, respect, and camaraderie that exists. She reminisced with Sandra on special memories and spoke about how they have all been there for each other through happy and difficult times.
“This is my second home. It’s cheaper than therapy and there are usually snacks!”
Thanks again to both Katy and Sandra for their years of volunteerism at Civic Theatre.
“Without our volunteers, we don’t exist.”
-Mary Jo DeNolf, Director of Volunteers