From Fountain Street to all Across America: Interview with Costumer Marcia VanKuiken

Last season we began our “Actors’ ExPats” series – interviews with folks who once were involved with Actors’ but had since moved away. This year, as we move our 30th Season, we are going to take that idea and expand on it. We are going to be celebrating some of the many, many people who have made this theatre such a success!

So, we’ll be interviewing all kinds of folks, from those that helped start Actors’ in the very beginning to those who are helping out today; people who have moved from West Michigan and those who are active in Grand Rapids theatre now. Our goal is to get to know some of the amazing people who have graced our stage, from acting to directing to everything in between. This is an opportunity to take a look at the past and also look to the future – and why Actors’ Theatre has been a passion for so many.

Our most recent conversation was with Costume Designer and Wardrobe Supervisor Marcia VanKuiken.  Marcia worked here in town with many Grand Rapids theaters before eventually hitting the road and going on tour with a number of national companies.

How did you get your start in community theatre, Marcia?

Marcia backstage with Lou Diamond Philips

I began working in Grand Rapids theatre in 1987, assisting Jill Hamilton with the costumes for Circle Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd.  I helped with building the costumes and also worked the run of the show backstage, helping as a dresser.  It was my first experience working behind the scenes and I guess that’s where I got the bug.  In 1988 Fred Sebulske asked me to design the costumes for his production of Burn This.  That was my first show of dozens that I designed for Actors’ Theatre.  When Actors’ moved into the new building on Fountain St., I was honored to be asked to help design and set up the costume shop for the GRCC theatre dept..  With that came the offer to be adjunct instructor for the Theatre Tech classes.  I taught the Costume Construction class for several years along with designing the costumes for all of the Actors’ Theatre productions.  It kept me busy, to say the least!

As someone who worked at the community college and saw the relationship between it and Actors’ and the other theaters that performed there, what are your thoughts about that connection?

I feel that the connection between GRCC and Actors’ Theatre is invaluable.  The students in the theatre dept. gain so much experience by working in all areas of theatre.  And as the students learn and nurture their talents, Actors’ gains from a growing pool of artists and technicians.  I believe that value is evident in the quality of the productions done by Actors’ Theatre.

"Elizabeth Rex" Actors' Theatre, 2006 - Photo Credit: Gayla Fox Photography

Tell us about some of your favorite shows that your created costumes for.

I have enjoyed all the of the shows that I have designed for Actors, but some were a bit more challenging than others.  I especially enjoyed the period shows, which gave me an opportunity to stretch my knowledge a bit. Shows like Elizabeth Rex and The Herbal Bed were a couple of my favorites.  I also fondly remember Curse of the Starving Class, but that memory involves a sheep living in the dressing room in the basement of the old theatre building!

"Elizabeth Rex" Actors' Theatre, 2006 - Photo Credit: Gayla Fox Photography

The most challenging show, I guess, would have to have been Elizabeth Rex.  The queen had a very unique look that had to be just right.  Thanks to Rob Thomasma, who did the wigs and make-up, I think we came pretty close.

What do you think you learned/gained from doing community theatre in Grand Rapids?

I learned everything I know about theatrical wardrobe and supervising wardrobe projects from working in local theatre.  I am grateful to the talented people that I worked with who shared their knowledge with me and allowed me to learn from them.

Actors aren't the only people who enjoy Marcia's magic in the costume shop. Tex appreciated her assitance with his favorite prop.

What are you up to now?  Or, what sorts of theatrical things have you done since leaving Grand Rapids that you want to share?

I left Actors’ Theatre to work as the Wardrobe Assistant on the national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2004.  I went on to tour with Spamalot and Camelot.  I have recently completed two years as the Wardrobe Supervisor for the national tour of Legally Blonde.  I am currently working as the seamstress for the film 30 Minutes or Less, which is being filmed here in Grand Rapids.

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Filed under Actors' ExPats, Interviews of Note

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