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Updated 12:00 PM February 2, 2004



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Costume artisan helps performers dress for success

A room in the Frieze Building is the home to couture for cowboys, criminals, swingers and hippies. The stockroom holds thousands of styles from different eras and allows theatrical productions in almost any U-M department to transport audiences to the past or future through costumes and props.

(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

Elizabeth Gunderson, costume crafts artisan/costume stock administrator for University Productions since August 2003, can help costume designers match performers in almost any production with the right apparel. Gunderson handles rentals and donations out of the stockroom. The costumes are used for many of the largest productions at 'U-M, including the theater, musical theater, dance and opera departments, as well as events held across the country.

"Anyone can rent as long as it's for a production," Gunderson says. "Right now, two people are fighting to rent costumes for 'Oklahoma!'"

The cast of "Oklahoma!" can include as many as 80 members, and with people involved in two different productions from Colorado and Michigan asking Gunderson for costumes, she has to make sure both are served. "We can accommodate just about everyone," she says.

Donations that come to the stockroom often consist of a relative's treasures from the past. With more than 7,000 pieces currently logged in the computer system and many more items waiting to be entered, knowing the costumes and their uses in theater are challenges Gunderson faces daily.

"I love working with people and helping to decide what outfit would work best for a certain character in a certain time period," she says.

Gunderson also works at the costume shop in the Power Center for the Performing Arts, where she does craftwork for shows as complicated as U-M's December 2003 production of David Hammond's play, "The Nutcracker."

"'The Nutcracker' was very craft-heavy for me," Gunderson says. "The production is a much darker show compared to the ballet. It goes back to the original short story, where there is a mouse queen and a three-headed mouse prince."

Gunderson created the nutcracker head for the Hammond adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman's original tale, as well as crafts for the queen, and she adapted the "evil-looking mouse masks" that glowed on stage.

She also is doing craftwork for the upcoming "Dances of Petersburg," performed by the University Dance Company, as well as "The Quick-Change Room" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," where her biggest challenge will be making a realistic but harmless crown of thorns.

After earning a graduate degree in theater from Ohio University and working in New York City, Gunderson has an array of skills that help her with challenges from mouse heads to crowns of thorns. "I love being able to look at a designer's sketch and build it myself," she says.

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