Members of the Hollins theatre department are expanding their skills beyond the stage. Students and faculty have collaborated to develop and execute a series of theatre-based service projects as a way to support the greater Roanoke community.
In September, props crafting students created baskets and other displays to hold raffle items for an Ursula’s Cafe fundraiser. A recently opened nonprofit organization in downtown Roanoke, Ursula’s Cafe is a pay-what-you-can restaurant that offers food to all, regardless of anyone’s ability to pay. Last month, costuming students held a workshop where they made children’s Halloween costumes for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Virginia. Future projects in the works include a partnership between stagecraft students and Habitat for Humanity.
“Since transitioning into the department chair position, much of my conversation with the faculty has been around ways to develop holistic theatre makers who understand the value of the transferrable skills theatre education provides,” said Wendy-Marie Martin, assistant professor of theatre. “One day we were talking about how ego so often pervades creative work and were contemplating how to provide our students with opportunities to practice humility. A lightbulb went off in all of us and the idea to combine transferable theatrical skills with service to the Roanoke community was born.”
Sara Clark ’25 came up with the idea for the costuming project.
“I come from a low-income family and growing up, I helped out with my local Boys and Girls Clubs and knew a lot of the kids who were in it,” Clark said. “Right after our major meeting, I decided I wanted to lead a project where I made costumes for kids at the Boys and Girls Clubs who might not have the opportunity to get one they want.”
To get started, Clark and Suellen DaCosta Coelho, visiting assistant professor of theater, met with kids at the Boys and Girls Club and asked what types of costumes they wanted. “I love kids, and I love seeing that look on their face when they see something that’s been specifically made for them,” Clark said. “We’re doing the actual costume-making as a workshop. That way anyone from campus, even people without sewing experience, can get involved — use the hot glue gun or attach sticky gemstones to fabric, things like that.”
Clark’s contact at the local Boys and Girls Clubs was Bryan Hancock, a youth development leader who also has a background in theatre and has participated in Hollins productions. “It’s important for kids to know that the arts are important, and that there are opportunities for them in the arts,” he said. “Kids aspire to do different things, and I view this project as a way to expose them to something new and teach them what their imaginations are capable of.”
The project also serves as a full-circle moment for Clark and her own memories of her childhood imagination. She first developed interest in costume design when her middle school offered a variety of intramural theatre classes. “Granted, these intramurals were $60 each, because our school was so underfunded, and it took a lot to convince my family that this was something I wanted to do. But I signed up, and it was totally worth it.”
“By supporting these kids in their imagination and embracing their creativity, I hope this will be something they look back on and then decide they want to give back in the same way,” Clark concluded. “I want to create an experience and artifact that is long-lasting for these kids.”
Top photo: Costuming students make children’s Halloween costumes for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Virginia.
Author Marin Harrington is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. She is pursuing her M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.