River Campus Costume and Scene Shops Increasing Interest in University’s Technical Theatre Program


Photo of students in costume shop

Theatre students used to working in the old costume shop in the basement of Rose Theatre (pictured) can look forward to a huge improvement when the new facilities open with River Campus in the fall.


June 12, 2007 – Faculty members in Southeast’s Department of Theatre and Dance say potential students’ jaws drop when they describe the new costume and scene shops at River Campus. And they haven’t even seen the finished product yet.

“The new costume and scene shops are already proving to be such a selling point for students interested in technical theatre,” said Rhonda Weller-Stilson, associate professor of theatre and dance. “It’s been hard to recruit in this area, but we have a lot of students coming in next semester. We’re already seeing increased interest. The students are going to be really pleased with the new facilities we have to offer.”

The new costume and scene shops at River Campus will be located adjacent to each other behind the Bedell Performance Hall, making the collaboration process between the two shops much easier. Currently, the two are separate, with the costume shop located in the basement of Rose Theatre and the scene shop located backstage.

The central location of both shops to the Bedell Performance Hall, the Rust Flexible Theatre and the dance studio also will make for smoother performances.

 “All three performance spaces are located right where the shops are,” Stilson said. “We can easily serve as a feeding station to all three without having to haul props.” 

Both spaces are larger and better designed as well.

The main function of the 4,550 square-foot scene shop, which includes a mezzanine and storage space, is designing and building sets and props for performances. The shop’s roles include carpentry, lighting and sound, welding, metal working, technical operations and repairs. It also will serve as a teaching space for courses in stage craft, scene painting and lighting.

The scene shop’s additional square footage makes it two to three times larger than the existing shop, according to Dr. Phil Nacy, assistant professor of theatre and dance. The lack of space in the current scene shop required much of their set to be built on stage and left there for the duration of the performance.

“Our current shop is so tiny we were pretty much walking on top of each other while we were building,” he said. “Now we will have space to build the scenery in the scene shop, store it there, and roll it into the Bedell or the flexible theatre, which will allow touring shows to use the stage.”

We’ve also upgraded our lighting and sound equipment over the last couple of years, and we will get full use of it now,” Nacy said. “There are a lot of limitations to working with electrical systems that are 40 years old. With new wiring and electrical systems designed using current standards instead of those from 1966, we’ll have a lot more flexibility. As a lighting and sound designer, I have a lot of confidence in the new electrical systems. I feel my choices are wider now,” he said.

 “We won’t blow breakers like we do now,” Stilson added.

The new 1,850 square-foot costume shop will be a much more user-friendly space as well, according to Stilson. The costume shop designs, creates, fits, alters and launders costumes for performances, and it includes storage areas for the hundreds of costumes the shop “recycles” for future performances. In addition, the shop is responsible for props the actors carry on or off the set, as well as the curtains and other dressings on the set. The space also will be used for teaching courses in costume construction and makeup.

Previously, all functions associated with the costume shop had to be squeezed into one space, limiting what could be accomplished, Stilson said. The new costume shop will provide separate rooms for fittings, costume dying and laundry. 

 “We’ve always done these things, but never had unique areas for them,” Stilson said. “They were always crammed in the middle of the costume shop.”

In addition to allowing for a more spacious costume shop, these additional function-specific rooms will allow costume designers more freedom and creativity with their creations. 

“Having a dye room will allow us to use the wide range of commercial dyes, instead of having to rely on household Rit dye like we’ve been doing,” Stilson said.

Although they are anxious to get settled into their new homes, Nacy and Stilson have one minor detail standing in their way – moving and reorganizing the 40 years worth of props and equipment stored in every nook and cranny of Rose Theatre.

“Imagine packing up and moving your grandmother’s attic, and then multiply that effort by three, and you’ll get an idea of what we’re facing,” Nacy said. “We don’t get rid of anything; we store and ‘recycle’ all our props and costumes. We are still using some of the same items from when Rose Theatre was built in 1966,” he said.

“We’re breathing 40 years worth of dust in the process,” Stilson joked. “The costume shop has boxes upon boxes of shoes alone. We’ve filled an entire storage room with boxes of shoes waiting to be moved,” she said.

“The two of us and four students will be working every day of every week leading up to the move, and I have a feeling we’ll finally finish packing the day before the moving trucks come,” Nacy added. “It’s a huge, huge job.”

Despite facing this monumental challenge, both Nacy and Stilson are excited about the move and the new possibilities River Campus will provide.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for students,” Nacy said. “The River Campus facilities will be better than most, and I think many other universities will be envious. We will be able to provide our students with a wider set of experiences that will certainly help in their careers,” he stressed.