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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Tusculum Costume Shoppe is Where the 'Magic' Happens

These costumes show the amazing stretch of a bolt of fabric. The same bolt of material was used in costumes (from left) for
These costumes show the amazing stretch of a bolt of fabric. The same bolt of material was used in costumes (from left) for "My Fair Lady," "The Music Man," "Can Can" and "Bye Bye Birdie." The second costume was "re-used" for both "The Wizard of Oz" and "Guys and Dolls."
Additional photos below »

December 20, 2009

GREENEVILLE, TN Rows of ribbons, shelves of hats, stacks of shoes and a colorful burst of fabrics delight the eye when entering the Arts Outreach Costume Shoppe on the campus of Tusculum College.

More than 20 years of dramatic history unfolds along the walls of the costume shoppe, with costumes from "The Wizard of Oz" snuggling next to the silky fabrics used for the eye-popping costumes of "The Mikado." A lion head towers over the room and a bejeweled crown sits by waiting on the next King Lear or King Midas.

Now bursting at the seams, the costume shoppe got its start in 2002 and is funded in part by a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission. In addition to serving the College and its annual theatre and music productions, the Costume Shoppe also strives to meet the mission of the Arts Outreach program and offers its unique service to local schools and community groups.

The costumes are not rented, but are loaned out to schools and groups who use them for school plays, special events and community productions. The costume shoppe offers a wide assortment of costumes for Arts Outreach programs and any school performance, from full-scale musicals to single-student presentations. The only fees involved are that the garments must be cleaned before they are returned.

Last year there were 10 area schools that participated in the costume lending program, as well as the Jonesborough Reparatory Theater, Central Ballet Theater and a community group in Johnson City who borrowed several Civil War costumes, according to current Costume Director Barbara Holt.

But the marvel of visiting the costume shoppe is the history of the past and the heart and soul of years of costume-makers who have brought the fabric to life in productions ranging from the Bye Bye Birdie to Guys and Dolls, and according to Holt, many of the pieces have be used, repurposed and used again. "It is not uncommon for some of these pieces to have been a part of two or more productions through the years."

The costume shoppe allows for the storage of past costumes as well as donations that come in from local individuals and businesses that support the Arts Outreach program at the college. There are walls of thread and zippers, patterns and zebra prints that have been purchased, donated or reused for other garments through the years.

"This is a labor of love for me," said Holt. "I love working with fabrics, and I love to sew. I am energized by the actors and have met some of the most amazing people. My life is enriched by just being part of the Arts Outreach program."

Holt has been with the Arts Outreach program for the past 16 years in one capacity or another and took over as costume director in 2008. She has worked tirelessly to catalogue and organize the materials they have amassed through the years.

"There are some amazing pieces here from people like Judith Plucker, Ann Birdwell and Debbie Close. There were such amazing people involved here through the years," said Holt.

And while they do reuse many of the costumes in each production, each year the call comes for new costumes to be made. According to Holt, each production may take 1,000 or more hours in costume production. Much of the work is done by Holt and her army of volunteers (more than 90 on a production such as The Wizard of Oz), but in some cases outside help is needed. Holt said it took upwards of 60 hours to make one kilt used in the production of Brigadoon.

"Barbara has been with me for more than 16 years when I first came to know her through her son, Seth, one of our performers," said Marilyn duBrisk, artist-in-residence and director of arts outreach. "She is an absolute joy to work with and Tusculum College is so lucky to have her."

She added, "There have been so many times when in the middle of production and she has literally 100 or more cast members to costume and she just manages to stay calm and inspire her volunteers."

The costume shoppe and its many wonders are part of the magic of Tusculum College's Arts Outreach programs and productions. And to make it all come alive, in the words of Peter Pan, all you need is "faith, trust and pixie dust" and maybe a zipper and a snap and a bolt of shiny, gold fabric.

A! ExtraTopics: Theatre

Costume Director Barbara Holt has organized most of the Tusculum College costume collection and can tell you the history, the maker and much more about each piece.

Shelves in the Tusculum College Costume Shoppe are lined with decades of top hats.