Getting to Know You - Jackie Sanders, HPSD Costume Designer
Jackie Sanders has been working with Hyde Park School of Dance since 1997—first as a tap instructor, eventually as costume designer, including for the upcoming revival of Amira: A Chicago Cinderella Story, running March 28 and 29 at Mandel Hall.
Do you have a background in dance?
I started dancing when I was six. I could do any form of dance but I loved ballet (for a while) and began my formal ballet training with the Kalamazoo Ballet Company in Michigan. When I moved to Chicago to further pursue my professional dance career (and I still dance professionally with Joel Hall Dancers, where I’m also rehearsal director), I began teaching tap at HPSD—because I was also a “hoofer.” My students were fabulous, and I felt they needed costumes to match. So I decided to start making costumes for their performances, which led me gradually to making costumes for HPSD here and there, but not for a whole production at first.
I think by 2000 or 2004 I started making costumes for Nutcracker. I first started making just tutus; I would make the Sugar Plum tutu or the Snow Queen tutu. Nutcracker is a very large production so I would design and make costumes by section; the first was Snow, then I moved on to Flowers, then Mirlitons, then Pollies and so forth. The first HPSD production I costumed fully was the world premiere of Amira two years ago. Nutcracker happens all year long because of time constraints. I have only about two months to try and costume 200 people for Nutcracker. So now I have started working on Nutcracker in the summer, and I barely complete the costumes in time for the production in December.
Do you have a background in costume design/construction?
I did not go to school for costume design/construction, but my mother taught me how to sew when I was a little girl watching her sew. I took sewing classes but taught myself advanced sewing skills and took some tailoring classes. If I made an item of clothing that did not look like it came from the store or was manufactured, I was not going to wear it, and I would start over. I have high standards for my work. At one time, I also made wedding and bridesmaids dresses and formal evening wear. I even taught myself how to make men’s suits. But I really started to love costume design and construction when I started making tutus. I love anything that sparkles and glistens, and I love jewels and beads and color and texture. My first tutus did not come out too well, so I went to tutu school (yes, there is such a thing). By working alongside different costume designers, I learned the craft and many tricks of the trade, and I am still learning.
Have you worked with other companies?
I have designed and made costumes for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Joel Hall Dancers, Tyego Dance Project, and The Kirby Reed Project, Ascension, to name a few. Freelance dancers also have asked me to design and construct costumes for them for a production they are in or a tutu for competitions.
What do you find satisfying, and most challenging, about costuming Nutcracker?
It is one of the easier ballets to costume—for me, that is—and I also love the joy of seeing the kids’ faces and their excitement when they know they are getting a new costume. What is most challenging is trying to find the right fabric for the role and make costumes that are going to fit diverse sizes and last for many years. Some costumes are still hanging in after 10 or more years. I hear people say, “Oh, it’s just a costume, so get any old fabric,” but costumes should be made out of the best fabrics and constructed even better than street clothing so they last and look beautiful on stage.
How do you keep it fresh every year?
After the last bow of Nutcracker, after taking a short break, I start working on next year’s Nutcracker. I see different productions to get fresh ideas or watch different productions on television or YouTube. I also take webinars and classes on costuming. I have what I call my inspiration pictures and then take it from there.
You worked with Lab student Olivia Issa to create the special light-up tutu Amira wears. Would you tell us about that process?
Olivia is fabulous. The process was not that complicated for me. Olivia had the harder part. I made the tutu and then we sat down and discussed where the lights should be anchored. Then I handed it off to her and said a prayer. She can also sew, so she sewed in the lights and battery pack. Then we had to test when the lights would come on and off and where the battery pack was going to go. It made the dress a little heavy as well but it all worked out.
Have there been other performances or productions at HPSD that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
I enjoyed Wild Things and Carnival of the Animals, although I did not costume them, but I have added new costumes or reconstructed costumes for these productions. I loved the production of The Wiz for our Gala. It was fun and colorful and it sparkled!
How do you spend your time beyond your work with HPSD?
I absolutely love to knit (which I have not been able to do for a while). I love to go for long walks. I also take on contract work as a legal secretary/billing administrator at a few law firms.
Come see Jackie’s beautiful costume work at our performances of Amira: A Chicago Cinderella Story March 28 at 1 and 6 p.m. and March 29 at noon and 4 p.m. at Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th Street in Chicago. For tickets and more information, call 773-493-8498 or visit hydeparkdance.org/tickets.