Andrea Williams ’04 talks about her work as a free-lance costume technician
Clothes can make the man, and also the stage character. Andrea Williams ’04 of West St. Paul, Minn., is a free-lance costume technician for Chicago-area theaters such as Steppenwolf and Goodman Writers Theatre; and Milwaukee-area theaters such as Milwaukee Repertory Theater and First Stage Children’s Theater; among others throughout the Midwest. She also has worked for seven seasons with American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis.
Williams discovered her unique passion as a work-study student during her freshman year at Ripon. In the costume shop, Adjunct Professor of Theatre Susan Hill taught her to use a sewing machine.
“I learned I had a talent for it at Ripon,” Williams says. “I’d sewn a little bit by hand, but not serious sewing. I learned a little from her and then made it up as I went along.”
Williams had a triple major – theatre, history and classical studies – and all have served her well as a costumer. “For historical plays, there is a great deal of research that goes into what I do. My classical and historical knowledge helps me a lot. So much of what I do is a lost art or dying art. People don’t always realize that underneath the fancy costumes are bustles and corsets, and we do still make all of that and create our own patterns.”
She says costumes are the first impression an audience gets for the character, even before they speak. “They tell you how important that person is, how wealthy they are. Whether it’s a big, fancy dress or ripped up clothes with mud on them, they’re going to tell you something about that character. They give you an added layer of who that person is. I like seeing the product up on stage and knowing I had a part in it.”
Williams received a master’s degree in fine arts in costume design and technology from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and she likes being a part of the theater community. “Most of my best friends are here (the theater), and it’s this whole other family I’ve created for myself,” Williams says. “I’ll never make a fortune doing what I do, but I love it. It makes it all worthwhile.