Sunday, April 10, 2016

Of Costumes and Characters

This week our Children’s Theatre kids will be measured for their costumes for this season’s three shows. Two of those productions — “Johnny Appleseed” and “Needle and Thread”  will be costumed by a very talented woman who has created a figure for a wax museum, repaired sports-figure heads for the Oakland A’s, and made giant popcorn boxes she rents out as walking movie advertisements.

TonyaMarie, who divides her time between Ohio and Alameda and has an MFA from the Academy of Art University, also divides her talents between her two loves: art and animals. “Theyre what I live for,” she says. She’s worked on Children’s Fairyland productions since 2012.

Jacob wore a TonyaMarie costume in our 2012 production of The Tortoise Who Flew.

Art and animals have been the themes of TonyaMarie’s life since she was a young child. She learned to sew early, around the same time she began taking in rescue animals: skunks, opossums, raccoons, owls. She later earned her living for many years as a veterinary tech, but always made art on the side. When her children were grown, she attended art school.

Her “aha” moment came when she was hired to create an exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. “People are getting paid to do this!” she recalls thinking happily. She wanted to continue to use her talents to help animal causes, and so she has since created art for rescue-organization fundraisers; panda and koala costumes for the Knoxville Zoo and United Way, respectively; and a redwood sculpture of an eagle’s nest for the San Francisco Zoo.

In 2008 TonyaMarie moved to the Bay Area in a U-Haul truck, accompanied by eight cats, a blind squirrel, a sewing machine and tools—but no furniture. “I made it work,” she recalls. She currently calls Ohio her “landing spot”; it’s where her kids and grandkids live. There she keeps an apartment, a studio, a sewing machine and a number of loyal clients. When in the Bay Area, she stays with a friend and teaches at Alameda’s Sewing Room store in exchange for getting to use the shop’s sewing machines at night.

Having created costumes for many children’s shows, she knows what will help her as she meets our theater kids this week. First, she listens: “Some girls don’t want to wear skirts; some kids are fidgety and don’t want frills or pompoms, and some are clumsy and ask me not to make the costume really long.” Headpieces are always a challenge; most kids don’t like chin straps. She enjoys the costuming process and the transformation that occurs on the day the kids have their final fitting. “I’m better than Santa to them — for five minutes,” she says. She makes a point of attending an early performance to catch wardrobe malfunctions.

TonyaMarie with a dog costume she created for Bowzer's Pizza in Alameda.

The artist who loves animals will be here for three weeks, then returning to Ohio for six. While here, she’ll also be creating dog costumes for Bowzer’s Pizza, which will be featured in Alameda’s Fourth of July Parade. While in Ohio she’ll create costumes for a production of “Cats.” Dogs and cats; art and animals.

“I absolutely love the freestyle life, and right now it seems to be working,” she says.  We at Fairyland would have to agree.

-C.J. Hirschfield
C.J. Hirschfield has served for 13 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park.

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