Masterpieces of the HFAC’s basement

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In case of nuclear warfare, the basement of the HFAC is probably a student’s best shot at survival. It’s also a best shot at looking fabulous.

This subterranean hub of campus is arguably one of the eerier places at BYU.  With no windows and few signs of life, it’s surprising some of the most creative work here at BYU takes place in this bunker.  Home to the BYU Arts Costume Shop, the basement of the HFAC is filled with thousands of costumes, wigs and accessories.  Besides being vitamin D deficient, the HFAC basement is in fact a bustling creative environment.

The BYU Arts Costume Shop is responsible for the hundreds of costumes that grace BYU’s stages each year. Operas, musicals, dramas and comedies are outfitted by this energetic workshop, a process that requires a lot of hours and a lot of hands.  Between costume designers, costume construction and pattern-making and fittings, preparing costumes for a theater production is a production in itself.

Diane Ogden works in the costume shop on a seasonal rotation, lending her seamstress skills when times get busy.

“We’re working on eight shows right now, which is unusual,” Ogden said.

Eight shows with eight different costume collections is a huge undertaking, one that is strategically organized with month-by-month calendars lining the wall above a line of sewing machines. The calendars are color coordinated, each show flashing its own fittings, meetings and deadlines in its respective color.

The organization doesn’t end there. Once the costumes are ready for the stage, they’re lined up on clothing racks in alphabetical order. Each clothing item has its own tag with the actor’s name, show and character. If that sounds relatively simple, just multiply it by 1,000 — each semester.

The costume shop’s repertoire includes more than just dresses, skirts and the occasional ball gown. Plenty of memorable costumes have been created from the hands and sewing machines of the shop’s staff.  Deanne DeWitt, the assistant manager of the shop, immediately recalled the costumes made for BYU’s production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in 2007.

“These were theme-park costumes, made from foam,” DeWitt said. “They were larger than life.”

Another costume that will not soon be forgotten is  Captain Hook’s ensemble from last January’s production of “Peter Pan.” The coat alone is made from royal blue velvet, adorned in gold embroidery and crystal rhinestones, each painstakingly applied with a special machine. The construction of the coat required the work of four seamstresses and an estimated 100 hours, DeWitt said.

The sketches of beloved, memorable costumes line the walls and a row of sewing machines provide a constant hum. Adjoining to the shop is one of two storage spaces, literally packed full of costumes. Every item of clothing imaginable — and some unimaginable — fill the space. Upon first entering, the place seems to be a warehouse of ’50s prom dresses and frilly pirate blouses, with some Civil War dresses thrown in for good measure. Costumes from more than 50 years of theater productions fill the space.

Melissa Deguire, a senior studying costume design, works in the Costume Shop. She said the process of costume production from start to finish is intricate, even for sewing a simple hat.

“We get the renderings (costume sketches) from the costume designers,” Deguire said. “From that point there’s a pattern-making, cutting draping and the actual production.  It’s an incredible process.”

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