Costumes sew much fun

Stitching together a love of clothes, costumes, and do-it-yourself skills is what got Chantal Short all the way into the professional theatre ranks.

It didn't start out that way, though, and she is now showing the city's young and the aspiring (of any age) all the needles and threads of the sewing profession.

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When Short left Prince George to pursue her stage dreams, she did so despite a fear of the live spotlight. She got her degree from the lauded theatre school at the University of Victoria but she was on a different exit path than the one on which she entered. Acting was no longer her goal, but she still had a love for the world of stages and performances.

"I answered a post from the Slamming Door Artist Collective looking for a volunteer to assist their costume designer," Short said. "I thought it would be a cool way to meet people and it was, but it really opened my eyes to this other side of theatre."

That would be the hidden side, in the darkness of the wings, the side audiences only experience indirectly through the costumes and other effects built for that performance.

She is now a veteran of theatrical costume-making, for indie drama companies all the way up to a stint in the Cirque du Soleil costume department.

Short was, in the past couple of seasons, the resident costume designer for Theatre NorthWest and she will be leading a series of sewing workshops this summer to pass on her knowledge to people here interested in the fibre arts.

"It is amazing to be back in Prince George working in theatre," she said. "I don't know that I ever realized, when I was growing up here, that this could actually be a job, that I could make money at it, so to be able to come to P.G. and do that work professionally is super awesome and if there are kids in the sewing camps this summer who dream about being a costume designer or going into the fashion industry, then I can help that."

These camps are not just for theatrical costumes, though. It is to introduce or deepen a life-skill that stands anyone in better stead. She grew up in a blue-collar environment with a family full of "tradies" as she called them. A mechanic being able to patch up the knees of their overalls is just as important. So is saving money on clothes by learning how to make your own.

"I find as a costume designer, people are really intimidated by sewing," she said. "They don't think they can figure out the sewing machine and that stops a lot of people from trying, and there was gender pressure too that I hope, I believe, isn't there as much anymore, that was always dumb, so everyone should come and do this and you'll learn things you'll enjoy, it'll help you and interest you even if you're just remotely curious."

She remembers the first professional play she ever saw at TNW. It was The Miracle Worker in 2001.

She also remembers the surreal first time she worked on the TNW costumes, last being It's A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play in 2017.

She still feels pangs of surprise that her D.P. Todd Secondary School Drama productions would lead her to this side of the performance arts and back to Prince George. She hopes her teacher, Linda Riches, feels some of the responsibility for inspiring her.

"Ms. Riches was the best, super supportive, helped those of us with a love to turn it into something," Short said. "She was fine with someone saying they wanted to move away and make weird art stuff. She could explain to us that this was possible, it was a valid career, and she was right. She's a pretty special lady."

The path is nowhere near finished for Short. She is leaving Canada for a two-year master's degree program in costume design at the University of Edinburgh, so TNW will be in need of some new costume personnel for awhile.

In the meantime, Short is in Vancouver where she is helping her first company out again, doing costume design for Slamming Door Artist Collective's production of The Sea (co-starring Melissa Oei, who has been to Prince George twice in recent years to act in Miracle Theatre productions).

Short is also taking on another important sewing project, her friend's wedding dress.

She will be back to lead the summer sewing camps. For information on how to sign up in the age or experience category best for you, go to the TNW website and follow the links to the workshops. Kids as young as eight are invited to learn, and there are options with no maximum age. There are certainly no maximum uses for these creative skills.

"It's not just about sewing," Short said. "You learn about felting, manipulating weird materials like plastics, I've made masks by melting down garbage bags with a heat gun. I've watched a lot of cosplay tutorials. Those industries are kind of connected."

She wants to point the way from the sewing table off into the world of theatre, or fashion, or artisan creation, or whatever someone may feel inclined to do with the skills. She is especially hopeful that the people who take the course will feel more strongly about getting involved in creative activities, no matter what that might look like.

"P.G. gets a rough rap, but they support their arts," Short confirmed. "When I tell my stories about how things are in my hometown, people from other places all kind of wonder how they could make that happen where they live. There is a bit of amazement out there at how people in Prince George step up for people doing artistic projects. We really do it well in P.G., and how important and amazing that is. It's pretty rad."

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