The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Behind the seams

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20 years of experience with every stitch

by Rose Vega | Features Editor | [email protected]

Two rows of costumes line the back wall waiting for their debut to the main stage. Rolls of fabric in all sorts of colors and textures are stacked opposite the costumes. There are mannequins and fake wings guarding the sewing machines which are in the center of the room. The desk in the corner is reserved for the woman who has been in charge of all costuming for City College for the past 20 years, Nicole Sivell.

Sivell is the costume shop manager and the resident costume designer for City College Theatre.

“I never thought I would go into technical theater, I always assumed I’d be acting on stage all the time,” says Sivell, who had always acted as a child and been involved in theater. She had started college thinking that the sciences would be the place for her but also continued theatre as a hobby. However, soon Sivell’s hobby became her passion and she eventually graduated from UC Davis with a degree in theatre arts.

“So I adore live theater. I love how changeable it is,” says Sivell with enthusiasm. “I love that theater is just constant problem-solving. That’s one of the things that I find the most fun.”

Sivell says that she likes how she’s constantly being challenged to create new things.

“How do you make a man give birth on stage?” says Sivell with a little laugh. “I mean all kinds of things; How do you take something written from one time period and re-envision it so that the modern audience understands it? That’s part of what I really love.”

Her work station is home to all the working costumes that will be in the upcoming play, “The Beaux Stratagem”, but that is just the start. There are several other costume storage rooms scattered throughout the Performing Arts Center.

“I can’t even begin to guess,” says Sivell about how many costumes the theater department actually has. “We have everything from animals for children shows to modern clothing to Greco Roman clothing; Every time period you can imagine we’ve probably done a show.”

Assistant shop manager Hunter Farnbach and Yolanda Ashford are hard at work designing costumes under shelves of rolled fabric and trim. Photo by Niko Panagopoulos | Staff Photographer | [email protected]

Sivell says the City College theater has been around for about 60 or more years, and they have accumulated a lot of costumes and props over time.

While the costume department makes a lot of new costumes every year, Sivell says they also reuse and repurpose.

“So when one is working in theater, not everything is built for every show. We use a lot of different methods for putting clothing on actors,” says Sivell.

Currently, the costume department is in the early stages of costuming for “The Beaux Strategem” with guest head costume designer Rebecca Redmond.

City Theatre puts on two main stage shows every semester, one or two traveling children shows, as well as a children’s show on campus. During the summer they also produce the Shakespeare In the Park festival, which has two main stage shows and two traveling shows.

With all the shows Sivell has done over the years there is one that stands out.

“My very favorite show that I have ever done was a production we did of ‘Tartuffe’ by Molière,” Sivell says, smiling. “It was a combination of 18th century baroque and 1970’s glam-rock and it was super fun. Men in corsets and platform boots, huge wigs, amazing stage makeup. The whole thing was totally over the top. It was an absolute blast.”

Sivell is looking forward to “Carrie: The Musical”, which will take place later on this spring.

“We haven’t gotten to dump a bucket of blood over anyone’s head in while, so that’s going to be a blast,” says Sivell. “It’ll be a interesting challenge figuring out how to deal with that.”

Sivell doesn’t teach any classes, but she always accepts lab students and volunteers who then become a part of her costuming crew.

One of those students is Devin Justice, 21, a technical theatre major who has been working with Sivell since she was 15 years old. Justice not only works behind the scenes, she’s also an actress; She says she likes creating costumes because she gets to see how a project truly comes to life.

“I like how dedicated we are to our craft,” says Justice about herself and her fellow costume crew. “I like how we all work really hard to know our stuff.”

Justice hopes to attend CSU Long Beach in its costume program in the future to continue her love of theater.

“I want to stitch and I want to dress,” says Justice as to what she would like her future profession to be.“Dressers are just the people backstage who rip off their clothes and get new ones on in under 30 seconds.”

Around the same time Justice started to work in the costume department, so did another interested student, Ava Jones.

Jones, a marine biology major, stumbled upon her fascination for theater arts after seeing her boyfriend perform in a City Theatre production.

“I really like seeing things come together,” says Jones, who has now been a student helper for six years. Jones she also finds enjoyment in props and other aspects of theater.

“I’m not great at sewing,” Jones says, laughing.“Considering I have a sewing job. So when I do something, I get a really big sense of accomplishment.”  

Devin Justice and Ava Jones pull costumes for the upcoming production “The Beaux Strategem.” Photo by Ryan Middleton | Photo Editor | [email protected]

Jones says they usually have about two months to prep for a show and that the only hectic time is tech week.

“Tech week is the week before a show opens,” says Jones.“That’s when the costumes go on people, the set is implemented into the show, lights happen and sound happens, and it becomes a thing.”

While Jones loves the theater she hopes to pursue a career in marine biology and wants to transfer to a college somewhere in Southern California.

While Sivell manages a lot behind the scenes, she is not alone in her endeavours.                                                                                                                                                    
Hunter Farnbach had acted in a production of “Peter Panto” when he found out about the costume department.

“I wandered in here to get my measurements taken, and I was like, ‘Hey I don’t have a job right now so I’m just gonna hang out in here,’” says Farnbach, who has been working with Sivell for about four years.

He is now the assistant shop manager for City Theatre.

“Nicole was like, ‘Hey can I pay you?’ and I said, ‘Please, pay me. I’m starving,’” Farnbach says with a laugh. “And that’s how I got the job.”

“I really like to build costumes. That’s really my favorite thing to do,” says Farnbach as he continues to place pins in the pattern he is working on. “If there’s a really weird thing we need built or something we don’t have a pattern for, those are the projects I like the most.”

Farnbach says he also occasionally designs pieces for the main stage and has also done some for the children’s shows.

He has been sewing since he was a child and has always been interested in creating.

“My mom stopped making my halloween costumes when I was 7, and I was like, ‘I guess I have to make my own costumes now,’” says Farnbach. He taught himself how to sew after that.

“It’s kind of funny, you know, because people say that the arts don’t pay the bills and right now this hobby of mine is what’s paying the bills.”

The costume department has an open-door policy and will always accept enthusiastic people who are interested in theatre arts. Interested students can email Nicole Sivell at [email protected]. Or peek into PAC 129 to see the costume crew in action.

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