From pulling garments to doing fittings

Neither the lively swish of a dress nor the furl of a coat can come to life upon stagewithout a creative mind to guide the process. Pierce College’s theater department enjoys a bevy of beautiful costumes through the combined efforts of the costume department, of which Katherine JuDay is a part of, as the costume shop manager. She’s a jovial spirit with a kind smile, one supplied by an ample love for her work.

The workroom is still in a state of flux, the building’s renovations only recently finished and some accoutrements of the craft are still sifting through the space till they find their place place. Colorful spools of thread are lined up neatly like little cloth jewels alongside one wall and various dress-forms stand proud and ready to be draped. Towards the back of the spacious environment is a collection of sewing machines, soon to whir with the familiar sound of handicraft.

“Look at this place, look at where I work, I love my job,” says Katherine with smile, seated at the cutting table. She’s worked at Pierce College since 1993 and has worked on over 100 shows. Prior she had her own business, ‘Handmaiden California’, she designed and supplied prom dresses, bridal gowns and costumes for theater. She breaks into a smile even reminiscing about the labels she used to have, black with gold metallic script. She left because, “Your own business is feast or famine. You either have too much or not enough”.

With her youngest daughter in kindergarten she returned to school and began to help in the theater department, and since then she’s stayed. Theater provided stability and more creativity than the usual retinue of bridal and prom work. Katherine isn’t a professor, but is certainly an important part of the staff, she prefers the term ‘hired gun’ best though, which she says with mirthful relish.

Katherine brings down a binder full of photographs, all taken of the various performances she has seen through the years. Of the great multitude of shows she has worked on she has designed and built over 40 of them. She turns each sheet over carefully, pausing over her favorite pieces, Agamemnon and Sweeney Todd are some of her favorites. The photographs are crisp and colorful, you can see the texture, the color and the care that has gone into them.

“I think I like obtaining all of the supplies, I like getting all of the stuff together, all the stuff we are going to use. That is my favorite part I think,” she says, leaning back in thought. Shopping downtown, gathering fabric and baubles and whatever else is needed, “Its always a new discovery,” she says. Her least favorite aspect is the time constraints.

“We work closely together,”, says Katherine’s colleague, professor Eileen Gizienski, the theater department’s costume designer. “I come in with the designs and we talk about how he fabrics are gooing to be used and we talk about the cut of the fabric, we pull garments, we do fittings.” She will likewise echo Katherine’s sentiment in regards to the time management entailed, “Sometimes we have a couple of months, sometimes we have five, six weeks,”

They don’t have much time before the next show. Stage costuming is inherently collaborative, and coordination is definitely needed to get the net play production, Cheese, running smoothly. Katherine has been working closely with a student designer, Vanessa Stewart, on the production, whose colorful designs are tacked up on a wall near the entrance.

Vanessa Stewart has nothing but positives to offer, “Katherine is amazing to work with, she is extremely kind and understanding about what your needs are as a student and as a designer. She is incredibly talented and intuitive and a lot of fun to work with and talk to. I love being able to work with her, I feel very lucky.”

Katherine would be heartened to hear such praise. The work is itself its own reward, she looks forward to each production with optimism, and she grins as she doodles a little plate of cheese on a Cheese production flyer with colored pencil. To the eye of a creative, joyful person, there isn’t anything that can’t be imbued with a further sense of beauty or charm.