Spotlight: Costume store supervisor never stops helping

BY LAURA WILLIS | MARCH 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Boxes of wicker bird masks and pillbox hats are nothing out of the ordinary.

Gazing around the closet in the Studio Arts Building through her red-rimmed glasses, costume-shop supervisor Megan Petkewec appears nonchalant about the peanut costume in the corner and hoop skirts along the back wall. The theater enthusiast keeps a watchful eye on clothing racks, ensuring each garment is properly aligned by color, size, and style. Making acute observations of garment sizes on charts, she prepares for the later fitting-room sessions. She remains well-hidden from the limelight but nonetheless helps to see that the show goes on.

“I love to be a helper,” said Petkewec. “There’s almost nothing better than saving the day.”

Working in a cramped 10 x 10 fitting-room space, the 45-year-old uses stories and humor to make actors feel comfortable. She introduces herself as Megan, a costume-store supervisor who is fun at parties. While measuring, she asks about scars —the topic usually leads to a good story. Her voice remains animated as she takes down notes.

“I warn actors that I am terribly funny, even if they don’t think I am,” Petkewec said. “I laugh at my own jokes every time.”

And others catch on to her humor, which they feel makes the costume shop more interesting.

“She is very exuberant and lively and quite funny,” said coworker Sharon Somers.

Her empathy for student performers comes naturally — she was once in their shoes. Growing up in Grand Island, N.Y., she was exposed to theater during high school. During a production of Hello Dolly!, Petkewec, a member of the choir, watched as a waiter’s suspender button flew off. She was able to sew the costume back together in under five minutes thanks to her background in home ec.

The experience led Petkewec towards a new career field: costume production.

“I am drawn to people and to textiles versus wood or metal or lights,” Petkewec said. “That’s why I picked costumes.”

In 1983 she attended the SUNY College at Oneonta, N.Y., where she majored in home ec. Through various classes she discovered that she didn’t want to design costumes — that required drawing, a skill Petkewec felt she didn’t posses. Instead, she decided to incorporate her passion for people and costumes by fitting theatrical outfits.

She worked in the college costume shop where she met the man who became her husband, Mike.

After learning about his role in the production, she quickly joined the props crew, making sure his sandals were ready before each show. Years later, the two took theater vacations to the Stratford Shakespeare and Shaw Festival in Ontario, Canada.

After graduating from SUNY College in 1987, she worked in Buffalo, N.Y., followed by a year of schooling from the University of Iowa. In 1989, she traveled back East to attend the University of Delaware and earn an M.F.A. in costume production.

Life soon revolved around travel. Petkewec worked in a variety of cities, including Seattle, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. In July 2010, she took a new position at the UI, spending her days fitting actors, organizing materials, and ensuring that everyone knows the given task.

“She knows her business and makes sure that everyone knows theirs,” said costume tailor Barbara Croy.

But for Petkewec, the job duties are simple.

“I care,” she said. “That’s what I do.”

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