By Amy Wells
Kantner Hall was overrun with rabbits and donkeys at the end of last week. These creatures were the handmade results of an instructional costume symposium hosted by the School of Theater.
The 2009 United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) Costume Symposium provided the opportunity for costume design professionals in higher education from across the United States to learn about and create reticulated foam and Varaform creatures. Workshops during the three-day event included sculpting, adapting patterns and assembling thermoplast and foam creatures.
"These 41 brave gals and guys have worked their little buns off making donkeys and rabbits and many creatures, and they have been troopers," said Holly Cole, an Ohio University professor of costume design and co-chair of the symposium along with Staff Costumer David Russell. "They learned how to approach the patterning, deal with the assembly and the cutout and all the other wacky stuff that comes when working with these materials."
Participants divided their time between transforming stacks of paper and foam into expressive donkey heads and carving blocks of hard foam into rabbit head molds for the thermoplast material. Foam and Varaform are often viewed as intimidating materials by individuals accustomed to the easy drapability of fabrics.
"It's a mini 'master class,'" Cole said. "These are materials commonly used on Broadway and in the television industry. Some of them are pricey and some of them are not, but the techniques are things that will help people develop costume craft portfolios, which are a means of getting jobs. I think most of (the participants) came because they really enjoy finding out how to make these creatures and also to bone up on skills they can take back to their students."
In addition to improving their skills, some participants were drawn to the symposium because of Cole's distinguished reputation in costume design and technologies. Cole and Russell presented a mini-workshop at another USITT event, which led to the annual symposium being hosted by Ohio University.
"Part of the reason some of us are here is because (Holly Cole) is exceptionally good at this, and so the chance to learn this from her is a pretty good deal," said Kevin McCluskem, assistant professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.
The symposium explored a variety of approaches in designing creature costumes and simple rigging tricks that make the creatures seem to come alive.
"We get to take away not only what we've learned here -- which (is information) we didn't know or adds to what we already know -- but also different ways of thinking about the materials and different ways to rethink what we already do," McCluskem said.
Each participant received a detailed workbook illustrating step-by-step development processes, basic patterns for creating donkey heads and puppets, and a DVD that details the development processes in action.