Theatre department performs 'spring cleaning' in summer

Theatre department Costume Manager Cindi Calhoun (left) and student worker Paola Castellanos hang hats and props on a new rack system that is part of several renovations to the department’s costume shop.

Photos by Ralph Freso

After every whirlwind school year, Grand Canyon University’s theatre department looks forward to the summer break with ambitious hopes of completing various projects.

First on this year’s list: renovate the costume shop.

“We get to play, build and make stuff, so we want to create a fun environment,” said Costume Shop Manager Cindi Calhoun. "This is our fine arts lab.

“We wanted to redecorate to make it as inviting, functional and exciting as possible to really make it a classroom for students to come and learn and push us together.”

New dressing rooms were installed for cast members to try on costumes.

The College of Arts and Media's theatre department produces multiple plays and dance productions throughout the academic year, and with back-to-back meetings, rehearsals and run-throughs, props and costumes are placed in the first available space in the costume shop and, over time, they end up stored in random places with little time left in between shows to organize or purge the collection.

“Twenty-something years of building, and you just keep everything," Calhoun said.

From biblical and Medieval, to Renaissance and Victorian, costume styles of any era can be found in the costume shop.

Props and costumes, once stored in boxes, have found a place on the new rack system.

But because some costumes are only for specific shows, and the likelihood of doing the same show again with exact-size actors as before is small, Calhoun said the shop quickly fills up with costumes the department likely won't use again soon. So during this renovation, the department passed along costumes to other theatre companies that might need them.

Decluttering outdated costumes and reorganizing everything on new, assigned shelves and hanging racks was the first thing Calhoun had on her mind to create a more open and clean space.

“I wanted to have more zones to work,” she said.

Students, faculty and staff tour the costume shop on Thursday after a recent re-do. (Photo by Lana Sweeten-Shults)

A corner that was once occupied by multiple clothing racks brimming with dresses, purses, hats and shoes, is now a changing station with newly installed dressing rooms, vanity mirrors and standing platforms for costume alterations.

Stacks of boxes that spanned across the room have been replaced by crafting stations featuring sewing machines on each table, with pins and needles ready to be used.

Unnecessary scraps and material have been cleared off the cutting and ironing tables, giving students a bigger place to lay out their fabrics and patterns so they can cut and put ensembles together for shows.

“We don’t always recognize shops like this as classroom spaces or working spaces, but they totally are,” Calhoun said. “This is where we unwind from the day while mindlessly doing the work.”

Students try out the costume shop's vanity area during an open house on Thursday. (Photo by Lana Sweeten-Shults)

Costume shop renovations couldn’t be complete without decorating the walls and showing off trinkets that are reminders of the theatre department's impressive work.

Plankton from “SpongeBob,” the yellow hat from “Tuck Everlasting,” a bloody sleeve from “Murder on the Orient Express” and an oversized brown mask from “Peter and the Starcatcher” are just a few “little easter eggs around the room,” Calhoun said.

“There is a legacy here, and it is important to keep it going.”

Student worker Paola Castellanos (second from right) is congratulated by a fellow student at the open house. (Photo by Lana Sweeten-Shults)

Students are not only excited to come back to a newly set-up costume shop, but also for the opportunities it will bring for future productions.

“Having this space also be more available for when we do our Black Box shows, having the vanity and dressing rooms for that, will be super great,” shared senior Jessica Mangels.

Black Box, Ethington re-do

The costume shop renovation isn't the only facilities refresh underway in the College of Arts and Media.

Technical Director Klay Wandelear and his team have taken down all the lights in the Black Box Theatre to clean and focus them and prepare them for the following season – something the department does every summer for its performance spaces.

The Black Box Theatre, a small performance area for intimate productions that doubles as a classroom, will receive new speakers. And the bigger performance space, Ethington – which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the 2024-25 academic year – is being prepared for the installation of a new sound system.

Technical Director Klay Wandelear tests the new lighting system at the Black Box Theatre.

“Every year, we make things more streamlined and useable for the future, and every year, we get better with using this space to the capacity we have,” Wandelear said.

"We want to be teaching students what they are going to be using when they go out into the field. We have the luxury of showing them the right way to do it and to know this is how you adapt to your space, while staying safe.”

In addition, Wandelear and Chair of Theatre Bill Symington have been renovating the Black Box Theatre's backstage, which encompasses a dressing room, places for props and a mini shop complete with assembly tools, all while maintaining the integrity of the space as a classroom.

What was once known as the theatre cadaver lab has come a long way to establishing itself as a theatre and a teaching and learning space for the College of Arts and Media.

GCU staff writer can be reached at [email protected]

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