MARSHALL – During Southwest Minnesota State University’s holiday break, theater professor Sheila Tabaka got a request from her theater colleague Lisa Nanni-Messegee – create a gown for the red carpet of the 4th annual Indie Soap Awards.
Nanni-Messegee, an actress/director from Virginia, is in the web series “Thurston,” which was nominated for four awards at the Indie Soap Awards that took place on Feb. 19. SMSU grad Rien Schlecht, who lives and works as a wardrobe supervisor off-Broadway in New York City, designed the gown, while Tabaka made it.
Tabaka said fashion design isn’t her thing, but she wanted to do the favor for her friend. The two were in graduate school together at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
“I’ve always admired Sheila’s work on the shows we did at MSU and have continued to collaborate with her creatively, most recently when I guest directed ‘The 39 Steps’ last spring for SMSU,” Nanni-Messegee said.
“She’s definitely one of those people who wants to take as many people on her adventure as she can,” Tabaka said of Nanni-Messegee.
While she was directing at SMSU last spring, Nanni-Messegee knew there would be a small possibility that “Thurston” would be nominated for the awards in New York City. She floated the idea toward Tabaka about designing a dress for her.
When December rolled around, and “Thurston” picked up four nominations, Nanni-Messegee said she sent Tabaka an e-mail telling her the news and asked if she was still on board with designing the gown.
“Her reply started with ‘aaaargh!” so at first I wasn’t sure if I should take it as a yes or no,” Nanni-Messegee said. “Turns out it was a huge, enthusiastic yes.”
Tabaka said Nanni-Messegee is into the “old Hollywood” style, but it was decided to go with a gown that was a little bit modern.
“We wanted something that was more contemporary,” Tabaka said.
And Nanni-Messegee left the dress design and creation in Schlecht’s and Tabaka’s capable hands.
“She really left it up to Rien and I,” Tabaka said. Tabaka said Schlecht is a really good renderer and draws very well. “It’s always exciting when there’s a costume on the page. It’s your task to bring it to life.”
“I wanted them to have fun making choices,” Nanni-Messegee said. “As they started to get a sense of color and design, I started to find shoe, jewelry and purse options.” She said she e-mailed images to both Tabaka and Schlecht, and they narrowed things down that way.
Tabaka said the inspiration for the dress came from the sequins used to create it. Depending on the lighting, the sequins either look black, blue or brown, she said.
“The sequins kind of propelled the dress,” she said.
Schlecht bought the fabric in New York, and the fabric was then shipped to Tabaka in Marshall. Tabaka only had her friend’s measurements to work with and sewed the dress in SMSU’s costume shop.
“I basically built it in a weekend,” Tabaka said.
“We also Skyped a couple times to do more detailed measurements on video,” Nanni-Messegee said.
Tabaka said she made the dress a little longer.
“I knew I had to shorten it,” she said.
Tabaka went to New York City along with her daughter Sally before the awards to do a final fitting of the gown.
When they were all in New York City together, the sleeves were shortened, the sequins were raised on the sleeves and the dress was hemmed.
“Basically we took the whole dress apart and moved it up two inches,” Tabaka said.
“Thurston” ended up winning two awards: best cinematography and best costumes. It is now nominated for the Hollyweb Festival Awards, an international festival celebrating web shows, based in Los Angeles.