Stage Door News

Niagara-on-the-Lake: Shaw Festival staff makes masks and garments for front-line workers

Sunday, April 12, 2020

They may not have plays to work on, but the people in Shaw Festival's wardrobe department aren't sitting idle during the pandemic.

About 20 people with the Niagara-on-the-Lake theatre company are cutting and sewing and staying busy cranking out about 400 masks and garments per week for front-line workers.

Executive director Tim Jennings said it's a way for the company to use its talent while waiting — and hoping — for the 2020 season to start. The company has cancelled shows to June 30 and is keeping its 400 members on payroll until at least April 19.

"What's important about keeping everybody on payroll and continuing to work … is how useful and productive that feels in a world where things aren't useful and productive currently," he said.

"There's a real hope, a real optimism about it, that I find very powerful for all of us."

Jennings' wife Truly Carmichael is among the cutters who doesn't just help make the hospital-approved patterns, but drops them off at homes afterwards.

Shaw Festival has donated the fabric. Cutters, designers and seamstresses then combine to make the garments and masks, much as they would the elaborate costumes for the season.

"It started off with what we had in stock, things we bought," Jennings said.

Last week, the company's wardrobe head and production director ordered more rolls of fabric to keep up with demand.

With a laugh, Jennings said many of the stitchers want to do "all the little fancy things they normally do."

"All the things the Shaw is known for in terms of quality. But really, this is just about speed and making sure it's not a frayed edge at the bottom."

Jennings feels the endeavour again shows the bond between Shaw Festival and Niagara, even as the pandemic has put a halt to live theatre and other events.

"Just because we're in the arts doesn't mean we can't help the (people) on the front line," he said. "They're doing a hell of a job right now, and for us that's a big deal.”

by John Law for

Photo: Jo Pacinda, wardrobe assistant at the Shaw Festival. © 2020 Josh Coffey.