‘It’s such a beautiful play’

MARSHALL – In the last month or so, Southwest Minnesota State University theater professor Sheila Tabaka and some of her students have created 11 pre-Civil War era ball gowns.

“That’s a pretty impressive feat,” Tabaka said.

The Southwest Minnesota State University theater department is presenting “The Heiress” at 7:30 p.m. April 3-5 and 11-12 and 2 p.m. April 13, in the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre. Tabaka is directing the show.

When the 2013-2014 theater season was announced last spring, Tabaka said she was aware of how much costuming would go into “The Heiress.”

“We knew it was going to be this much,” Tabaka said.

“The Heiress” is set in the 1850s in New York City and is about Catherine Sloper, a shy and plain girl. Morris Townsend courts her and falls in love. Catherine’s father thinks Townsend is after her vast inheritance.

“There’s not a lot of plays done in this era,” Tabaka said.

Tabaka said they had done some research on clothing from that period during the last year or so. Tabaka said the costume department had some of the patterns in stock.

“Almost all the patterns we had purchased had been modified,” Tabaka said. If a pattern called for hooks, Tabaka said they used snaps. “If there’s quick changes, they (the dresses) have to have them.”

Tabaka said they also turned to Pinterest for some ideas, but “you have to evaluate that” when making sure that the gown design is from the 1850s.

“They take forever, but they’re beautiful,” SMSU student Sara Mills said about helping sew the dresses.

“We spent a lot of late nights already,” Tabaka said. There was also a marathon of fittings, Tabaka added.

Tabaka said the set even had to be modified for the width of the dresses.

There’s about eight yards of material per dress, Tabaka said. And the material used to create the gowns can’t be all cotton, she added, especially for Catherine’s. Catherine is being played by Callie Frank, who wears six of the 11 dresses being created for the show. Mills even counted 20 pieces that went into the construction of one of the dresses.

The men are wearing frock coats, and her costume construction class is making all the vests, Tabaka said. There’s also the cravats, pants, gloves and pocketwatches, she added.

“All these little accessories,” Mills said.

There’s even special hair meetings for “The Heiress,” Tabaka said, since the show has period hairstyles.

“To see what we need,” Tabaka said.

Mills said helping with the costumes for the play has been challenging, yet enjoyable.

“I love this because the dresses are completely different from what I’ve worked on,” Mills said.

Back in the time period of “The Heiress,” people walked differently, talked differently, and men treated women differently than today, Tabaka said.

“It’s not a casual kind of society at all,” Tabaka said.

The actresses have been wearing their hoops and corsets during rehearsals, Tabaka said. That way, the crew can see how much space is taken up.

Tabaka said “The Heiress” is a wonderful, heartbreaking story with lots to look at onstage.

“It’s such a beautiful play,” Tabaka said.

“I love how visual it is,” Mills said about the show.