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Turning Illusions into Reality through Costume Design

| Rachel Mueller, Theatre Arts & English, '22

For students in UW-Eau Claire’s theatre program, working one-on-one with professors is well within reach. Laine Vanden Boom, a senior comprehensive theatre major, got one such opportunity as the associate costume designer for Disruptions: Illusions vs. Reality, the mainstage devised Shakespeare production releasing online this spring.

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the performing arts industry in spring 2020, and the UWEC Music & Theatre Arts department was no exception, with some productions abruptly cut short and unable to finish their runs. “The whole show is called Illusions vs. Reality, so they kind of took that giant theme and broke it down for each of their own personal scenes,” Vanden Boom says. “It was a lot of them analyzing their scripts and trying to find how the bigger theme relates to their own show and characters. Basically where that came from was the COVID situation and how art has been disrupted.”

As associate costume designer, Vanden Boom worked closely with costume faculty, Amanda Profaizer, and costume shop manager, Ally Thieme, to design three of the seven scenes. Profaizer provided her feedback on her designs, paperwork, and specific design choices, while Thieme built patterns from her designs and gave instructions on how to construct the garments to the shop employees.  “I think it’s important that [students] work with both myself and Ally, because Ally has a different role than I do in the costume shop,” Profaizer says. “It was a great opportunity for Laine to learn how to communicate what she needs built, how it’s going to be built, and making choices.” 

Disruptions: Illusions vs. Reality compiles seven of Shakespeare’s classic scenes, as well as a sonnet written by English professor, Dorothy Chan, and original music composed by student, Sam Stein. The project is devised, meaning that students and faculty collaborated to create concepts both for the whole show and for each individual scene. “A lot of my inspiration came from the work that each group had presented to us,” Vanden Boom says. “Each group explained to all of the designers the concept that they’re going for, what time period they were looking to have their pieces set in, and any more specific ideas they had as far as their characters, so it was very collaborative… that’s not something I feel like most shows have - working together directly with the actors that you’re designing for.”

After hearing each group’s vision for the scenes, she got to designing. “I did a lot of the work at home, so at first I started with a lot of Pinterest, a lot of PowerPoints, and a lot of inspiration images, basically trying to get a feel for moods and colors and textures that I liked and how I want to incorporate that into the actual clothes,” Vanden Boom says. “From that I went into paperwork and got the bare bones of what I want to be on these people and what I want to look for, because a lot of the stuff I actually pulled from stock. For the characters that I really had a specific image of in my brain, I made sketches.” 

Profaizer recognizes that passion is important when you’re starting out, which is why she encouraged Vanden Boom to design for the scenes she was specifically drawn to. “I think it’s really important when you’re beginning designing that you work on something you’re really excited to work on,” she says. “I knew that if she was really excited to work on these things, then the outcome was going to be a lot better.” 

Vanden Boom asserts that her high-impact experiences in the theatre program will prepare her for life beyond college. “Coming into the program, I had no idea that costuming would be something I wanted to pursue, but I've grown to love it. I've loved my time as a shop employee and being given the opportunity to be an associate costume designer was amazing. I felt entirely overwhelmed and under-qualified, but Amanda and Ally were there to guide me the entire time. They were willing to let me take on the challenge and learn from the experience. I'm very grateful for that. Being able to foster my passion for costuming in such a hands-on, friendly, educational environment has been the highlight of my college career.”

To see Vanden Boom’s design inspirations, check out her Pinterest board here. Disruptions: Illusions vs. Reality will be available to stream online later this semester at variable price points to accommodate budgets during the pandemic.