OGDEN, Utah – Some theatre arts students at Weber State University are putting their costume design skills to use for an off-stage production—refurbishing an old display at the Treehouse Children's Museum in Ogden.
The project is part of a course taught by professor Catherine Zublin, who wanted to find a project that allowed her costume design students to apply their skills to a community project.
Enter Geoffrey and Elaine, two 4-foot-tall, plywood figures that used to be on display at the local children's museum. In their day, visitors could attach clothes to the figures using Velcro. Over time, the outfits wore out, and Geoffrey and Elaine went into storage.
Zublin, who serves on the museum's board, decided to redress the problem by having her students re-dress Geoffrey and Elaine. Their assignment was to draw on their knowledge of costume history to create two-dimensional, textured costumes for the plywood figures, which are only ¾"-inch thick. Each costume had to represent a particular time period or draw on a specific artist's work.
The students began by tracing Elaine and Geoffrey to get the right measurements. Then they set to work designing new outfits. Part of the challenge was to create outfits that would hold up to the wear and tear associated with being put on and taken off repeatedly. Another obstacle was working around the existing shape of the figures, especially the arrangement of their limbs.
"Geoffrey's arms are raised as if he's holding something, and Elaine is holding flowers in front of her," said junior Lindsay Keller, a theatre arts major with an emphasis on costume design. In addition to the arm positions, Elaine's figure is cut to look like she's wearing a dress, a feature that had to be accounted for in any wardrobe change.
Classmate Amber Stephens, a junior theatre arts major who designed the costumes for WSU's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," said the project stands out in her mind because design classes usually focus on conceptualizing costumes, not physically creating them.
"When we create a rendering of a costume, it only involves colored pencils or watercolor paints," said Stephens. "This project was time consuming because we had to use scraps of material from the design studio and turn useless fabric into something beautiful that children would enjoy."
Keller found more than a few differences between this project and her experiences creating costumes for WSU stage productions. For example, unlike outfitting actors and actresses, the clothing for Geoffrey and Elaine doesn't require a backside—it's more like the paper dolls she enjoyed playing with as a kid.
The project reconnected Keller with her childhood in another way. The Kaysville native said she always enjoyed visiting the Treehouse Museum as a child. "So, it's neat to be part of something that other children will be able to enjoy," she said.
The students plan to present the costumes to the museum April 22.
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