A costume collective; Theaters combine wardrobes in new location
Published 6:01 am Sunday, April 26, 2015
Local theaters are joining forces to fix a shared problem.
Matchbox Children’s Theatre, Riverland Community College and Summerset Theatre are coming together to store all their costumes in one location.
For several years, the three theaters have struggled with what to do with their large collection of costumes. The answer proved a winner for each and includes a new location to store the costumes on Oakland Avenue near McDonalds.
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“This was a big leap of faith for everyone,” said MCT volunteer Jennifer Wiebrand. “MCT had all this stuff, but it just kept getting shoved in corners. This has been a common goal to have this space and resources.”
Riverland and Summerset faced the same problem.
“One of our biggest challenges is storage space,” said Riverland theatre instructor and Summerset Executive Director Lindsey Duoos Williams. “We have a lot of shows and these costumes pile up. We have a limited amount of space here.”
The idea of combining costume collections has been in the making for several years, but it hedged on available space. Neither the MCT nor Riverland locations had the space. Riverland actually lost space during a remodel.
The groups began serious discussion on merging the costume stocks and eventually found an answer in the former laundromat owned by Bill Regner.
“For five years RCC, Lindsey, MCT and Brian Johnson [Austin High School choral director] were huge advocates and saw the value of having a communal space,” Wiebrand said.
It turned out, that while old, the building was a perfect fit for the needs of Austin theater.
“We were able to rent this building for a very reasonable price,” Wiebrand said. “The boiler, pipes — all could be used for what we needed them for.”
For groups like these, especially the MCT, that was the answer they were looking for. Pipes that were not being used were taken down and repurposed for clothes racks, which is just one of example of how the building was repurposed.
Especially helpful were the motorized racks that still worked, allowing for easy storage and even easier sorting.
RCC has struggled with a growing inventory and limited storage space.
“When I started in 2011, our costume storage was overflowing,” Williams said. “We even lost one of our costume storage spaces on campus. We ended up getting rid of a lot of those things.”
“Even then we’re still short on space,” she continued. “
Walking through the new location reveals the obvious scope for the need of a large storage space. MCT moved into its new space in January and now, in April, they are still getting the space organized. While much of the stock is currently hanging, still more is placed in neat piles as organizers figure out the best way to store things.
What makes the new space even more welcoming though is its multi-use capability. By the time they get everything settled there will not only be room for costumes, but for set pieces and even rehearsal space.
“All the cards fell into place,” Wiebrand said. “We’re surprised and excited each day.”
That bigger presence
Having one central place for costumes has been the major goal of Austin’s theater programs, but those who are helping to organize this joint space are thinking of the future as well.
MCT, Riverland and Summerset deal with storage and other issues that many other small theaters also face.
“We’re not the only theaters with these problems,” Williams said. “We have tight budgets and we have to be careful about our money. Art organizations are very supportive of each other. If there is a way to create a broader regional project I’m for it.”
Theater leaders also a hope to find a larger space for storing more set pieces.
“Our next goal is we want to find a warehouse for set pieces,” Wiebrand said.
Theater leaders have other goals, but for right now the groundwork has been set for a cooperative in Austin, and Wiebrand has been pleased with how theater organizers and community members have worked together.
“People have been really phenomenal, more than I could ever have imagined,” Wiebrand said.
Theaters planning to promote costume rentals
With a new space to store costumes, Austin’s theater groups are going to have an easier time of bringing their costumes to the people.
Perhaps a little less known has been what Matchbox Children’s Theatre has offered outside the stage: A place to rent costumes.
“MCT has always rented,” said MCT volunteer Jennifer Wiebrand said. “One of the biggest things is being accessible. We’ve kind of gotten away from that except for maybe Halloween because it’s so much work. But that’s coming back.”
Matchbox has made a pointed attempt at making its rental options known, especially now that Riverland Community College’s collection is part of that.
It’s something Riverland Theater Director Lindsey Duoos Williams has been on board with from the start.
“It’s a potential fundraising source we haven’t tapped into yet,” she said. “The inventory is just there when people could be using it for parties, school presentations, things like that. We don’t have the staff and resources to be running a rental shop at the college.”
Through this effort the MCT is hoping to further expand its inventory which also fits in well with what the organizations are trying to accomplish.
“We get a lot of calls wanting to donate things and we really appreciate that they think about us,” Williams said. “It’s a wonderful thing, but [Riverland] is limited on staffing and resources. We do so much here, it’s hard to handle that volume.
“It’s good to have one central place, because if you want to donate you can just call the rental shop.”
Getting the word out though is important and MCT has been marching along with that effort.
“We really hope to expand our stock in the next couple years,” Wiebrand said. “We got our new display and hope to have parades to let people know. We hope to make a bigger presence.”