Friday, February 25, 2011
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
I’m one of those people who feels flummoxed when a button pops off. I have no idea what to do. I know the theory behind the needle and thread, but my hands barely fit in men’s extra large gloves and my fingers certainly aren’t up to the task of threading a flimsy piece of cotton through the eye of a needle. Even as an agnostic, I probably have a better shot at entering the kingdom of heaven on the hump of a camel than getting a thread through that absurdly tiny hole. And even if I could, once threaded, I have no idea about how to sew the button or tie the knot at the end, limited again by gargantuan fingers.
Such is the handicap for my vocation as a director of children’s theater. Unlike the well-paid professionals on either coast, my lot is to be in charge of the whole kit and caboodle – set design, set building, lighting, sound, special effects, music and yes, I’m sorry to say, costumes.
For the first three productions I ever directed, my assistant director and I tried to coordinate costumes ourselves. The result was a mismatched collection of ill-fitting clothes: suits too long, shirts too wide, dresses too big. The costumes were a mess.
For production number four – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – I began to learn from experience. I fired myself from costumes, fired my assistant director entirely and hired my friend Jane.
Jane sees the world differently from me. She’s lived with dyslexia for more than fifty years. She sees the world in pictures and gets muddled when she’s tired. It’s easy for her to mix up the names of cast members, especially those with similar names. Jack and Jake confuse her. She would never be a big money winner on Jeopardy where the kings of quick-fire rule.
She has raised three children, almost exclusively on her own, and all three are excelling in the creative arts – Lisa in dance, Reed in theatrical lighting design, Mark in the culinary arts. Jane understands children with learning differences better than any teacher I know. On an instructional level, she simply gets what they need. Yet she drives certain colleagues batty because she communicates erratically and wanders in late to staff meetings, often dragging a large messy bag along with her.
And she has transformed my stage. She has hand-made fat costumes out of hula- hoops for Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. She has dressed a full cast of nearly forty kids in historically accurate period costumes. She handcrafted both the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, breaking a few sewing machine needles along the way. Over the last five years, she has been responsible for over one thousand costumes, each one exceptional and coordinated with its stage mates.
But more importantly than how each costume looks, Jane has made a personal connection with each young actor and made sure that each and every cast member feels good in their attire, is comfortable, and knows the character he is portraying. Jane knows that a child who has had a say in her costume, who has been heard, who feels at ease, will be a better more confident performer. That child will feel successful and will raise the levels of children around her. He will be proud of his work and will naturally go on to greater and better things. Confidence and success are powerful tools in the education of young minds.
With needle and thread, hot glue guns, machines that attach beading and sequins, buttons and zippers, Jane has brought my stage to life. More traditional minds don’t always understand her value and don’t always speak her language. But if they take the time to look past the baggage and the mess, they will get her. Jane has made an enormous difference in the lives of hundreds of children. She is a master educator and a gift.
Posted by Steve de Beer