- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

WAITE PARK, Minn. (AP) - It’s not easy finding the right shade of green for Shrek, making costumes from scratch, or doing fittings for a cast of more than 100 people in two days.

But that’s what GREAT Theatre costumer/resident designer Angela Sahli does. GREAT has an assistant costumer and many volunteers, but Sahli is in charge of how outfits, hairstyles and makeup look in the company’s shows. That involves eight main stage productions a season and 12 summer camps, all fully costumed. And yes, that meant trying to match Shrek’s green makeup to his green gloves for the musical in April.

“It was never quite right, but there’s only so much time and you kind of pick your battles,” Sahli said.

That mix of attention to detail and realism is what helps Sahli get the job done, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/1xdaeyD ) reported. GREAT is a few weeks away from its premiere of “Peter Pan,” so it will soon be a stressful - but satisfying - time for the people involved.

Sahli recently took some time for an interview at GREAT’s new location in Waite Park. A row of sparkly skirts that will be worn by the Lost Girls in “Peter Pan” hung behind her. Appropriately, her necklace had a pendent of scissors dangling from it.

She says she’s always been interested in music, dance, art and photography. “Everybody needs some form of creative outlet.”

And although her work now is behind the scenes, Sahli started acting when she was 10.

“It’s kind of fun to make that circle back to community theater,” she said. When asked if she ever wishes to act again, Sahli said, “I enjoyed it, but I don’t necessarily miss it. It was one way to create. I feel like I filled that void with costume design.”

Sahli’s husband, Adam, is the theater director at Cathedral High School. The two, who attended different junior high schools in South Dakota, met around that time when she did his costumes and makeup for a production of “Moby-Dick.” She’s helped with Cathedral costumes - including a production of “Moby-Dick,” bringing things full circle again.

Adam Sahli says his wife’s job “makes her happy. I think with any job, that’s the first thing. When she’s designing for a show, she’s at her happiest and artistically her most fulfilled.”

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Sahli sometimes does the sewing, cutting, patterning and other handiwork; sometimes she works with the people who have been hired to make the costumes. She designed September’s late 1970s period piece musical “9 to 5.”

Her work also can mean digging into GREAT’s costume stock to try to find the right outfit - or an outfit that can be fixed to look right. She and others also buy jewelry or make trips to thrift stores to supplement shows’ wardrobes.

She also works with the GREAT volunteers, actors and creative teams on productions.

“She definitely has an artistic eye that is great for telling stories on stage,” said Dennis Whipple, GREAT’s executive artistic director.

The costumes don’t have to be perfect; they’re not commercial clothing or intended to last forever. Still, there’s a level of detail that’s needed, and Sahli and her volunteer “army” ensure the job gets done, Whipple said.

And the work pays off, Whipple said. “Our audiences love the costumes,” he said.

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October’s “Mulan Jr.” entailed the creation of about 75 costumes; there wasn’t much in stock that would look right for ancient China. The company worked with a guest designer on that production.

But renting costumes for a production can bring its own challenges. That’s what GREAT did for last year’s massive production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It was a great set of costumes, but you never know what you’re going to get with a rental,” Sahli said. Luckily, most of the male actors in “Oz” were tall and fit well into the costumes.

“Oz” had a huge cast - 70 kids alone were Munchkins. That production fell around the holidays, so the fittings had to be completed in two days. Rental costumes can be altered only minimally - some fixes on hems are OK; cutting fabric is not.

Some of the “Oz” cast members were harnessed to wires to “fly,” something that GREAT will do again with “Peter Pan.” The wire work affects Sahli because the costumes must have harness openings.

“The flying technicians are fantastic and very safe, and the kids … they take it very seriously. They pay attention,” she said.

Although GREAT does both kid and adult productions, working with youngsters is a big part of Sahli’s job. And they’re often unfiltered.

“They’re just very honest. You have to be ready to hear anything when they’re in for a fitting,” she said.

And sometimes it means explaining to young actors, many of whom are new to the stage, that they’re playing a character. They may hate the color pink, but their character doesn’t, so that’s why they’re in a pink costume.

“You try to encourage them to embrace those things and help them not be themselves on stage,” Sahli said. “You’re always hopeful, with that age, that they like their costumes and they feel comfortable in it … You want it to be a very positive experience.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com

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