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Behind the scenes: Costuming at First City Players
A wall bordering a stairwell stores hats at the First City Players’ costume storage room. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

When an audience is watching a theatrical production, its costumes are probably not the first thing they notice. Costumes are meant to enhance the story — but some members of the audience, such as Lynn Jorgensen, have to remind themselves to focus on the plot, rather than having costumes absorb their every thought.

Jorgensen is on the First City Players Board of Governors, and has been in charge of the costuming for the organization for the past five years. Her goal is to help the lead costumers create attire that doesn’t distract from the production.

That wouldn’t be possible without the group of costuming volunteers and creative makeshift seamstresses who assist with First City Players productions — either occasionally or repeatedly.

Some of those volunteers include Jackie Jones-Bailey, Pam Duran, Nissa Dash, Johanna Hubbard, Esther Rhodes, Marna Cessnun and Dawn Schlosser — who costumed their most recent show, “Sense and Sensibility.”

“At this point, just having this core of people who are excited about the idea of costumes, who love to think tiny bits outside the box, who want to understand what the show is in a way to tie costumes into making the story better — is so exciting,” said FCP Executive Artistic Director, Elizabeth Nelson. “It feels like a luxury that we haven’t always had as an organization.”

Jones-Bailey became involved with creating costumes when her sons were cast in a FCP production in high school, according to Nelson.

“Jackie is a remarkably creative person, and just happens to be able to wield a needle in a gorgeous way,” Nelson said. “She has created lots of different things for us over the years. It’s really exciting to have her back, sort of full-time back, working on a lot of different things for us.”

Like Jones-Bailey, Jorgensen’s family ties also got her involved with costuming — she first got into it eight years ago when her granddaughter was in an ArtsCool show. Jorgensen said being able to use the troves of costumes in storage at FCP and adapting them to different characters throughout the years has been a treat.

She has especially enjoyed working with the kids in ArtsCool, simply because “they’re kids.”

“I get to put kids in costumes … like girls in fancy long dresses that they’ve never worn before, you know, unusual things,” Jorgensen said. “Kids are used to wearing T-shirts and jeans, so when you costume them in something elegant and different, they really have a great time with that.”

Sometimes those kids ask if they can take those dresses home, to which she replies: “No, but you can borrow them.”

Nelson said Jorgensen has taken on her job of keeping the costumes in order, keeping them clean, and as a result, “she knows where every single thing is.” Nelson added Jorgensen has been involved with every show — and multiple consumers — for the past five years, in one way or another.

“We’ve been incredibly lucky over the years with people who have volunteered to create stuff for us,” Nelson said. “We’re a little scrappy too, because we have to be. We live on an island, so we’re not going to find things that you’re going to find other places.”

Schlosser has been dealing with that for the past few weeks in preparing for “Sense and Sensibility.” She explained that Ketchikan no longer has anywhere to purchase most apparel fabrics, so they have to order many things online.

Schlosser, who has costumed three FCP shows, said ordering things online is a gamble. Sometimes colors aren’t portrayed accurately, and drape can’t be seen or felt. Essentially, Schlosser said costuming is a game of salvage.

“If someone is traveling at the right time, and can shop, that can be a secret weapon,” Schlosser noted.  “About half of what we used for this show, I hunted down while I was down south seeing my doctor, and a little of the trim was picked up by Amanda (Glanzer) in New York.”

For the Jane Austen adaptation, Schlosser and a group of volunteers took on the task of creating time period specific garments that would still allow the actors to reach what they need to, sit easily on the floor — or roll around on wheels.

She said, “the miraculous ability to change a coat with 16 buttons in less than two seconds, or suddenly become recognizably a different character without leaving the stage” has been a special challenge.

Creating a flexible costume is one thing. Duran, who is the lead costume designer for the upcoming production of “Charlotte’s Web,” has been dealing with quite a unique situation.

“We’re taking a little bit of a different tack in that we’re not trying to create actual animals, we’re creating the impression of animals; because clearly these animals stand upright, and they talk,” she laughed.

Duran has been involved with costuming at First City Players since a few months after she moved to Ketchikan in 2016. “Charlotte’s Web,” which debuts at the end of April, is her first lead costuming role.

The play has a special meaning for her, and she’s been wanting to do the costuming for it since the production was revealed in the FCP lineup last year. It’s one of her favorite children’s books, she’s read it to all of her children — and she still remembers it being read to her.

While there are many volunteers who take on large costuming roles with the theater group, some just enjoy doing the small things. Esther Rhodes volunteers with several organizations in town, and she’s been enjoying a simple task recently with FCP.

“For this last show, she just made all the button holes, in the jackets, in the guy’s pants, and I think she just had a buttonhole party and went to town on buttonholes,” Nelson said. “She’s got a machine that all you have to do is push the button and the buttonhole is done. I think it’s been fun for her to experiment with that.”

Nelson added the costuming volunteers are just a “gorgeous group of women” who have made a “real world for themselves within” the theater. It seems as though they create a new world for the audiences that see their productions over the years, as well.

“One of the things I personally love about theater — there’s so many things I love about theater — but one of my favorite things about theater is it’s as though you get to time travel all the time,” Nelson said.

“You’re living inside different people, inside different centuries,” she added. “They’re both historical and wild dreams of the imagination for the future, so when costumes can add into that and can really put you in those places, it’s so much better.”