The Wagner College Theatre program’s Costume Lab course, taught by veteran designer Alan Michael Smith, came up with an innovative solution to a problem posed by the coronavirus epidemic to colleges across the country: how to translate hands-on course material for the virtual-classroom environment.
Alan, a veteran of the Wagner College Theatre program, has worked as a freelance costume designer for the last 25 years, including 15 Broadway shows. He was recognized by the college last year with the award for exceptional performance by an adjunct professor.
“Once I realized we wouldn’t be back in the costume shop,” Alan said, “I had to come up with a new project for our students, one that would fit the curriculum as well as the skill level of the class, but that they could work on at home.
“I came up with the idea to make the face mask. The Theatrical Wardrobe Union, to which I belong, has been making masks to donate during this difficult time. Once I realized how basic and simple they are to make, I knew this was the perfect solution,” Alan said. “Not only do students end up with a useable product, but I get to test them on basic sewing vocabulary.”
Emily Upton, a graduating senior, is one of the students in Alan’s course this semester. She had been trying to get into Costume Lab since she was a sophomore — but each year, something got in her way.
“So I was very excited to finally be able to walk up those four flights of stairs to the neat, tucked-away costume shop in the Main Hall attic,” Emily said.
“When the college announced in March that instruction was going online because of the coronavirus, I was concerned about how my classes would continue from home — but … Costume Lab has worked well for me,” she said. “I am lucky to have plenty of fabric and two sewing machines in my house. I can sit down, listen to my music, pretend it’s my own sewing project and enjoy the solitude of peaceful work.”
Emily said she prefers face-to-face instruction but is remaining focused on her work.
“I have to remember that this is no one’s fault — no one chose it — and that we are all in it together,” she said. “There is nothing to be done but try to make the best of it.”