Creating characters one thread at a time

Elaina Wahl-Temple has been the resident costume designer at Flagler College for 10 years. Earlier this semester, she created costumes for The Giver.
Wahl-Temple studied performing arts with an emphasis on dance at Butler University in Indiana. She is an adjunct professor at Flagler College and teaches classes such as dance for the non-major and costume construction.
Student Jordan Neisler interviewed her about career and how she wound up at Flagler College.

Neisler: What was the first costume you ever made?

Wahl-Temple: It was for the orphans in Oliver. My mom was an actress, so I was introduced to the theater at a very young age. It was a smaller company in Maryland, so we all helped out where we could. They allowed me to first make the costumes for the orphans because they were hard to mess up.

Neisler: What did you do after you graduated college?

Wahl-Temple: I started doing acting gigs and then I picked up local costuming opportunities when I had time. I then went to Chicago do an industrial musical(1) for Precious Moments. The costume designer was behind schedule and I offered to assist her. At first, she gave me menial tasks, but one she realized I could sew she utilized my help all she could. After the industrial show was over, I was put in touch with the costuming department at the Goodman Theatre(2). I ended up getting hired as a stitcher for them and worked there for about a year. After that I went back on the road with a theater company and ended up in New York City.

Neisler: What are some your favorite costumes that you have created in your time here at Flagler?

Wahl-Temple: One of my most recent favorites was creating the costumes for the three main characters, Olga, Masha and Irina, in the production of Three Sisters. Another one of my favorites were the dresses that I created for Les Liaisons Dangereuses(3). For the costumes that required corsets I actually built them from scratch.

Neisler: What obstacles do you face on a day-to-day basis?

Wahl-Temple: Oh gosh, yes. Scheduling and space issues are obstacles that I have to overcome every day. Sticking to a schedule in my line of work is incredibly important. When someone even misses a fitting appointment, it can throw off my whole schedule for the week. I also have very limited space to work with. Here at the college there is not any room for me to cut or drape the fabric on any of the forms. This requires me to take some of my work home.

Neisler: Why do you love what you do?

Wahl-Temple: I love it for so many different reasons. I really enjoy seeing my students excel in all aspects of their lives. I love it when my students tell me about their smaller milestones such as getting an A on an exam that they were stressed about to the bigger ones like getting a job after graduation. Becoming a teacher was never on my radar when I was younger, but I am so happy that I have been given the opportunity to teach.

Neisler: What role do you think costumes play in theatre today?

Wahl-Temple: I think it is the audience’s first impression of the show. When an actor walks on stage the audience has already started to judge their performance and the show itself by seeing what they are wearing. I really think that costumes help the audience go on the journey with the actors.

Neisler: How has your craft changed over the years?

Wahl-Temple: Over the years I think that I have become more sensitive to detail and subtler in my pieces. I can now visualize pieces in my head with ease, and I have gotten much better at being able to repurpose items. I rely heavily on donations which had forced me to get more creative in how I repurpose certain items.

Notes:

1 – A musical performed internally for the employees or shareholders of a business.
2 – Chicago’s oldest and largest not-for-profit theater.
3 – In 2011, she was awarded the Kennedy Center Meritorious Achievement Award for Excellence in Design for her work on Flagler College’s productions of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.