Staff Report

They are the canvases that first brought to life Romeo, Juliet, Gaston, Mary Poppins, Queen of Hearts, Annie, Mad Hatter, Gaston and Elinor Dashwood. They are also what created the cape for the Beast in PCPA’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Hundreds of sketches by costume designer Judy Ryerson are back in the halls of Hancock College after she recently donated three boxes of costume-design sketches from nearly three decades of PCPA productions.

“The collection of sketches is a unique and generous donation,” said Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin G. Walthers. “The college’s Art on Campus Committee will make sure the sketches are hung on campus to share with as many people as possible.”

Laid out end-to-end, Ryerson said, the sketches span the length of almost three football fields.

“They were sitting in my file cabinet. Now, they are back where they belong and can be appreciated by theatre lovers,” Ryerson said. “Hopefully, this will inspire other designers and artists to donate some of their collections to further continue the legacy of PCPA.”

Ryerson has designed more than 1,600 costumes for 64 PCPA productions over 30 years.

“Costume designing is an art form, not a craft,” Ryerson said. “People take costumes for granted because they dress up in clothes every day. I hope people see costume design as a sculpting process where we use actors’ bodies as pallets for our art.”

While Ryerson does not have a favorite costume, she does have a favorite moment in the costume design process.

“My favorite part is when the students in the costume shop and the actors light up and get excited the moment they see my sketches,” said Ryerson. “To see my creativity spark creativity in others is an incredible feeling.”

Ryerson worked full-time at PCPA from 1989-2005. She left PCPA in 2005 to become the head of costume design at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but she has returned to design costumes for eight more PCPA productions.

“Judy’s commitment to the whole story, more than ‘merely’ the costumes, makes her a wonderful collaborator,” said Mark Booher, PCPA artistic director and associate dean. “Her deep experience and sophistication at taking essences of the narrative and translating them into color, texture and silhouette, which also make sense within the style of the play and activity of the individual character, make her a special designer to work with. The story comes first with Judy and she is willing to design boldly, adjust aggressively and compromise happily to serve the story.”

Ryerson hopes students and community members continue to support PCPA because she said it is a springboard for thousands of the biggest names in the industry, both on stage and back stage.

“I designed costumes for Zac Efron and Jessica Chastain. There are so many talented and big-named people all around the nation with connections to PCPA,” she said. “PCPA is a well-run theater program and highly respected around the world. It truly is an educational and cultural jewel.”