Backstage Pass

Get an inside glimpse into the hands-on experience for costume design students through Wright State University’s Costume Shop.

At Wright State University’s Costume Shop, students learn design techniques and how to make wardrobe magic happen. In this corner of campus, students develop mastery of technical and artistic costuming skills. They learn to create and innovate and get their feet wet with priceless hands-on experience in productions on campus and in the community. 

Zoe Still, a professor of Costume Design, shares how students learn in the shop and backstage, and what’s special about Wright State’s program. As you might expect, professors work with students during “shop time,” preparing for a show, planning, designing, patterning, sewing, and building costumes. But WSU’s shop is extra special, partially thanks to Costume Shop Manager, Carly Kimmins. 

Carly recently won a College of Liberal Arts (COLA) Outstanding Staff Award for her work in the shop and in the community, notably for the way she cares for the students. 

Zoe describes how her colleague helps students develop independence, professionalism, and confidence, teaching communication and respectful collaboration. “Carly is fantastic with them; she’s like their shop mom. She’s worked very hard to make sure that it’s a nurturing environment for everyone. If there’s an issue, she teaches them how to communicate effectively to work things out and get help when they need it.”  

Emmy Goerling, who is set to graduate this year, had praise for both Zoe and Carly. “They’ve taught me so much. I came to the costume shop already knowing how to sew, albeit self-taught. I’ve been able to work on very complex projects to advance my skills.” 

Beyond designing in the shop, students get to work backstage assisting during live performances. Zoe explains, “We have a black box theater with shows that are all student-produced. Professors direct smaller musicals and plays, and the space gives them an opportunity to get experience and make mistakes in a lower-pressure situation. Upstairs, our main stage is for bigger productions.” 

Show nights are one of the most exciting parts of the program. Aspiring costume designers work hard to ensure that actors' needs are met, getting them dressed, occasionally assisting with wigs, special effects, and makeup. And that’s just the prep leading up to showtime. 

Once the show starts, students are backstage assisting with whatever comes up, plus helping actors into and out of costumes in record time. “A quick change happens in anywhere from thirty seconds to a minute and a half,” Zoe says.

By graduation, most students have had opportunities outside of WSU, too. They may work with touring shows, theatre venues downtown, or even collaborate with students in the film department. “They get to try a little bit of everything,” Zoe says. “I’m excited to see what our students go on to do.” One such student, 2018 grad Naomi Reisner, currently works as a hairdresser for Wicked on Broadway. 

With shows like Sister Act coming up this fall and On the Town hitting the stage in the spring, it promises to be a great theater season. If you’d like to see a show, visit for links to the box office and other performances.

To find out more about enrolling in one of Wright State’s Dance, Theatre and Motion Pictures programs, email Vicky Oleen at 

Aspiring costume designers work hard to ensure that actors' needs are met, getting them dressed, occasionally assisting with wigs, special effects, and makeup. And that’s just the prep leading up to showtime. 

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