As the reality of our statewide stay at home order began to sink in, coinciding with a weekend of no zoom meetings, I’d started to get kind of squirrelly. I can only speak for myself of course, because I’ve been contained at home since last Friday afternoon after a derring-do run to campus to put together kits for our production staff to take home so that they could begin making masks for Doctors.

The idea emerged in an email thread in the Production Managers Forum, a group from whom I’ve taken enormous solace from in the last several weeks, as my thirty five years of professional practice have been upended by the COVID-19 health pandemic. On March 12th, our school shuttered their remaining productions on the same day that Broadway went dark and so did Center Theatre Group.

On Friday, March 20th, the idea began to be discussed, and links to how to make masks started circulating. Like crocus buds peeking up through the snow, a sense of hope began to germinate. Here was a way to help. Our staff members have skills that could be used, but we needed to move fast. Pending decisions about closing the campus to non-essential personnel were on the horizon. After hatching a plan, I realized at 2:30PM during the Emergency Operations Committee meeting that we would need to execute it before 5:00PM. I texted my colleagues, Hannah, our props manager, and Charlotte, our Costume Shop Supervisor. Hannah planned to pull bins from the Shrine props storage that we could fill with supplies from the Costume Shop, consisting of:

  • 1 Bernina sewing machine
  • scissors
  • 10 yds of medium weight muslin
  • cotton fabric for the outside of the masks
  • 1/4″ elastic
  • pattern for the masks
  • clear ruler
  • Bobbins and thread

I arrived at about 2:45PM, parking on Vermont Blvd., feeling a little like I was in the Resistance. I walked onto campus and to our office where I met Hannah, who had already collected the bins and was spraying clorox on them and drying them with paper towels. I helped her, then rode on the back of the cart (practicing social distancing) to the Costume shop, where we met Charlotte, who was pulling the fabric and elastic out.

We measured and cut the muslin, then Charlotte overlocked the edges so that when it is washed to remove the sizing, it would hold its shape. Hannah was measuring the elastic across her body using the span of her arms to compile 90 ft for each kit. We were rough measuring and moving as fast as we could to get the kits packed and loaded into the Scene Dock Theatre, accessible to all the staff who were planning to come get their kits before the close of business. I plopped instruction manuals into each bin for the machines and patterns for the masks themselves.

As we loaded the boxes onto the cart, then into the Scene Dock, the skeletal scenery left from the aborted load in for Fuente Ovejuna, shined under the ghost light, the sole source in the room. Fortunately, I was able to find a home for the boxes and boxes of Girl Scout cookies which had been upstairs in our office and which we’d left quite abruptly the previous Friday, Friday the 13th. I tucked a box into each of the kits we made. Hannah delivered some of the kits to staff members on her way home, and our newest staff member, Donavan, planned to come pick up his and fellow ATD Michael’s kits by the end of the day.

In about two hours, we’d equipped our staff to do the sewing from their homes, to help to make a positive influence on our city and community. It felt good to be out doing good. The staff of the Production area in the School of Dramatic Arts are not the only Trojans out helping.

We’re entering the second week of production of the Masks. we’ve had multiple meetings where the staff members traded tips on techniques, altered methods as the patterns they’d been using changed due to feedback from hospitals to the Covid Rangers, our source of the patterns. Charlotte and her daughter made some very useful videos about production which were enormously useful to those with less sewing experience. Life continues to bustle in our own living rooms and kitchens, in spite of our empty theatres that sit waiting for our return. I’m really proud of our Trojans helping Trojans.

Hannah Burnham, Props Supervisor, models one of her constructions.

2 thoughts

  1. Fabulous, Els! Our costume shop at Clarence Brown Theatre is also making masks. They’ve done hundreds! I am teaching every day – two online acting classes. It’s a challenge, but the students are wonderful… Day 17… how many months to go?!? Carol

    On Mon, Mar 30, 2020 at 10:44 PM lifeinthethe8tre wrote:

    > lifeinthethe8tre posted: ” As the reality of our statewide stay at home > order began to sink in, coinciding with a weekend of no zoom meetings, I’d > started to get kind of squirrelly. I can only speak for myself of course, > because I’ve been contained at home since last Friday aftern” >

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