- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - As the manager of the UCF theater costume shop, Dan Jones creates dresses from scratch that look like Marie Antoinette might have worn them. He sews a fat suit for a slender actress who needs to transform. He builds corsets and wedding dresses and knows the complexity when an actor needs a lizard suit for the musical “Side Show.”

The veteran costume designer also teachers a popular transgender entertainment class at UCF. Guest speakers are often drag queens and a typical homework assignment is to go to a female impersonator’s show and write a review.

“I feel really lucky that I have a job that I’m passionate about,” says Jones, who has worked at UCF since 2006. “I don’t think I would last very long in a world where I had to sit behind the desk all day and do the same thing every day for years on end. Every day is different.”

Jones has been hooked on theater since he uttered his single line when he was cast in a local production of “Music Man” as a boy in Nebraska. He also grew up watching his mother sew.

So when it came time for a career, Jones combined making clothes with theater to tell stories through the costumes the performers wore.

Jones, 43, who has his master’s degree in costume design and technology from the University of Nebraska, managed the costume shop at the University of Nebraska at Kearney before he came to UCF.

There is the feeling of fantasmic in UCF’s airy costume theater shop. The plastic tubs on the wall shelves are filled with things like glitter, cowboy hats, lost gloves, cummerbunds. There are sequins, colorful threads and sewing machines in a line.

The theater students like the vibe. They often hang out at the shop in between classes when they have an hour or two on their hands.

They laugh and talk about birthdays and graduate school options and life as they sew and listen to show tunes.

Jones wants the atmosphere relaxed even though his team usually juggles several shows at one time under a barrage of tight deadlines that never go away. Occasionally, Jones arrives at 8 a.m. and won’t leave until midnight. He can spend hours sewing a beautiful dress the audience only sees for a minute.

“We’re constantly in production mode,” said Earl Weaver, the theater department’s artistic director. “He works on a very pressure cooker schedule all year-round. It takes a very special person to handle all that.”

But on a recent day, there was no panic. Jones and his students finished the last bit of work, like the final stitches in a hat, before the full dress rehearsal a few hours later.

UCF student Gabriella Napolitano put on the hat she spent 20 hours making and posed in the mirror to take a selfie.

Jones inspected Katie Whittemore, 19, of New York, who worried about a tiny piece of tape showing on the jacket she was finishing.

“If they’re looking at this tape on the corner, the show is not very good,” the costume shop manager assured her.

Some of his students dream of designing costumes for the theme parks. Others, like Whittemore, spend time in the costume shop but want to end up on stage.

When the play opens, Whittemore plans to sit in the audience and whisper to her friends, pointing out the pieces - even if it’s just the trim on the coat - that she sewed.

“It’s not much,” she said. “But I notice them.”

About five years ago, Jones added to his workload and began teaching the transgender entertainment class.

“It’s definitely a little outside the box for a college course,” said one of Jones’ students, Gray Bigler, 18, of New Port Richey.

It’s a lesson of human acceptance.

“It forces you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit,” Bigler said. “It helps you grow your world view.”

Jones teaches about the history of female impersonators, how they existed centuries ago in Shakespeare’s time and earlier. The students study the media’s portrayal up to the present with Caitlyn Jenner, who made headlines this year for her transition as a transgender woman.

“I want them to see what a rich history there is. It’s not just lip-syncing and makeup,” Jones says.

During one class, the guest speaker was Robert Martin, who dressed in demure jeans and a black shirt sans make up.

He sat on a stool like he was giving a one-man Broadway show as he told his story of growing up in Iowa, how he found his passion in transforming into the beautiful and glamorous Chantel Reshae, and his family’s reactions when they found out.

“This is an unfiltered conversation,” Martin warned the students. “Nothing is off-limits.”

___

Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide