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500 glue sticks and counting

When Vanessa Schoen’s daughter Morgan auditioned for Wizard of Oz last fall, little did Schoen realize what kind of role she would play.
Trees come alive in the land of Oz

When Vanessa Schoen’s daughter Morgan auditioned for Wizard of Oz last fall, little did Schoen realize what kind of role she would play in one of Portal Players’ most ambitious musical performances.

Five hundred hot glue sticks, countless sheets of craft foam and 88 costumes later, Schoen has been able to breathe again.

Schoen and Stephanie Fortin were co-costume designers for Wizard of Oz. The pair worked off directors Elliot Drew and Denis Levasseur’s vision in creating prototypes for the fanciful Oz costumes.

“It was off Elliot’s design...he expressed his vision of Seuss, Willy Wonka,” Schoen said.

Schoen does not have formal theatre costume training. “It’s 20 years of making elaborate Halloween costumes for my three kids,” she said.

Most of the costumes for Oz were created in her dining room. “We basically pushed my dining room table out of the way. We had my sewing machine and two glue guns set up—and music. There had to be music.”

Schoen’s friend Tania Leger and even Morgan got into the assembly line once Schoen and Fortin got the go-ahead for many of the costumes.

Caitlin Johannessen, who plays Dorothy, created her own costumes, and Carrera Schroeder (part of the makeup team) made the Tinman and Lion costumes. “They took on some major role costume making,” Schoen said.

Now that the pace has slowed and Schoen has had the chance to watch the play, she said she would do costuming for a production again.

“Being creative and going OK, here’s the picture in my mind, how do I make it and how do you keep it on their head when they’re dancing?”

The process was no less exciting for Fortin, who has assisted with costuming and dressing in other Portal Players productions.

Fortin, who is schooled in fashion design and merchandising from the Vancouver Art Institute, was the seamstress and dresser for Fawlty Towers, worked on costumes for Reefer Madness and was a dresser for The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls.

“I learned a lot of new things and I put everything I knew from my sewing into costumes for this one.”

Fortin created several costumes from scratch, including the scarecrow’s costume, and assisted with the Kansas and Oz dresses for Dorothy. The sleepy red poppies and snow fairies are also her handiwork.

“I love (theatre costuming),” she said. “It’s so much fun for me. I like that every day you’re working on something new.”

Fortin commuted from Nanaimo for her costuming duties; when she wasn’t in Shoen’s dining room she would take her sewing machine and material to her sister Jenny’s house. “I would transfer everything into her living room,” she said.

Fortin will be sitting in the audience for the finale, so she can see the costumes in play.

“I’ve done a few runway shows in Vancouver but we had to be backstage for those. This is exciting for me.”

There are still tickets available to Wizard of Oz, which runs Feb. 28, March 1, 7, 8, 14 and 15 (and a Sunday matinee March 9). Tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre box office, Rollin Art Centre and