By Stacey Robertson
Located on the first floor of McConnell Hall, our Department of Theatre Arts is never quiet, even in the summer. Regardless of the hour, students traverse the halls rehearsing lines, practicing choreography, and endlessly preparing for their next audition or role.
As with many disciplines, those working behind the scenes can be just as vital as those performing on stage.
Reflecting on the many talented students and faculty in our Department of Theatre Arts, perhaps one of the most influential is Cat McMillen. She is both a costume-shop manager and lecturer. Her office is located on the second floor of McConnell, tucked in the back of the costume shop.
Against one wall of her office is a large blow up mattress, which Cat says she occasionally uses to nap during especially long days. These long days start in the early hours of the morning, and often stretch into the late evening.
“Every once in a while, I have to stay in the evenings for dress rehearsal,” Cat said. “I’m here from 6 a.m. to 11 or 12 at night.”
She and her students provide the costumes, wigs, and many of the hand props used for productions.
“I am in charge of the entire shop, and when I say the entire shop I mean I am in charge of purchasing all the supplies, training all the students, repairing all of the equipment, and cleaning everything,” Cat said. “I also teach a makeup class, a wig class, and sometimes a mask class.”
The Department of Theatre Arts produces highly acclaimed musicals and dramas throughout the year. Every one of these productions has its own unique demands and challenges.
The creative process begins long before opening night. A typical production from start to finish takes anywhere from five-to-ten weeks, depending on the complexity of the show. One of the very first steps is for the costume team to meet and determine how to “sell” the play to audience members.
Cat and her team collaborate closely with members of the design team, discussing everything from employing specific colors to create desired moods, to building props for each character to carry during the play.
“Is it sexy? Is it passionate? Is it uncomfortable? What is the key word that’s going to help us sell this (production) to our audiences?” she said.
From there, as Cat describes it, the team conducts inspirational research on the time period, prepares silhouette drawings, and develops item lists for each character.
Often Cat and her team will create every item of clothing or accessory worn or carried by all the characters.
“With this being an educational facility, students learn and build in a safe environment where if they screw up, we can still fix it,” Cat said. “It’s quite fun, watching students have that little lightbulb go off.”
Cat, who considers wig making her specialty, started performing at a young age, and was bitten by the “theatre bug” in college.
Her formal training began studying costuming with Susan Tsu at the University of Texas at Austin. Later, she earned her Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University-Montgomery, while working as an assistant wig master at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
Since her arrival at Central Washington University, Cat has mentored hundreds of theatre students from fledgling artists into masters of their craft.
“In theatre, we are all collaborators,” Cat said. “We get to transform people.”