UAF Costume Shop adds flair to local productions

UAF photo by JR Ancheta
Costume Shop manager Jerene Mosier drapes fabric over a mannequin in her office. She makes many of the items that are used in UAF theater and film productions.

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Nobody at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has an office quite like Jerene Mosier’s.

A collection of mannequins loom in the background as she sits at her computer in the Fine Arts Building, surrounded by dozens of bundles of fabric. A trip to various side rooms reveals bins loaded with shoes of every type, a vast collection of wigs and thousands of clothing items. To bring it all together, a hefty tool cabinet is filled with hundreds of shades and styles of makeup.

“There’s a lot here,” Mosier admits, scanning the room with a smile.

It’s just another day at the UAF Costume Shop, which Mosier manages. She’s spent a decade working for the Department of Theatre and Film, keeping track of thousands of items ranging from ordinary to obscure.

There are tuxedos with tails and sets of feathered angel wings. A bright-red suede jacket is tucked among a shelf of sport coats, which rests beneath boxes filled with kimonos. If you need a pair of 14 ½ men’s dress shoes or a head of curly purple hair, this is the place to find them.

Some items defy description. A full-body costume made out of sticks hangs high on a wall, but its purpose is a mystery. Many items are donated, but for unique requests there are sewing machines, reams of material and a dye vat to create items from scratch.

UAF photo by JR Ancheta
A collection of wigs, hats and other accessories fills a room at the UAF Costume Shop.

“We have costumes for every personality type,” Mosier said. “If we don’t have it, we can make it.”

The Costume Shop outfits UAF theater and film productions, and loans items to other stage performances in Fairbanks. But its inventory has also become a resource for campus clubs and events.

When UAF celebrated its centennial during a ceremony in May, the Costume Shop provided old-fashioned paperboy outfits for the kids handing out vintage newspapers. The French club uses their costumes for end-of-semester skits. The space has even provided outfits for the occasional drag show at The Pub.

Maya Salganek, associate professor of film and performing arts at UAF, said it’s an important costuming library for the campus and community.

She said that was clear when she recently directed a short independent film, “Bodies of Water.” The lead actress spent some of the movie submerged in water, and needed a specially designed outfit to place her as part of the environment.

Mosier made a distinctive “swamp thing” costume. In another scene, the actress wore a dress underwater complete with a weight belt to make her less buoyant. The role immediately came into greater focus, Salganek said.

UAF photo by JR Ancheta
Costume Shop manager Jerene Mosier browses through thousands of clothing items in UAF’s collection.

“There is something really important when an actor puts on a costume,” she said. “It’s a place they’re not able to go until they walk in the shoes of a character.”

Mosier said she’s seen it many times before. Her mother taught her how to sew as a young girl, and she’s spent much of her adult life making costumes. She said the transformation of people when they enter the world of theater is remarkable.

“I see people in come in, they’re shy and introverted,” she said. “By the end, they’re whole new people.”

Mosier plans to retire next year and pass on the Costume Shop to someone else. But after a decade overseeing its quirky inventory, she only mentions one regret.

“I wish I would have found this job years before I did,” she said. “We are tight like a family here — I couldn’t have found a better group of people.”

The Film and Performing Arts Department is part of the UAF College of Liberal Arts, which is the largest of UAF’s academic units and includes arts, humanities, social sciences and language disciplines. See the costume closet and shop in 360-degree views.