‘When I Grow Up’: An Interview with the Costume Designer of Matilda

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Matilda. Nebraska Communities Playhouse. 2022, The Stage, Lincoln, NE.

For a lot of college students, finding jobs after graduation can seem daunting and mysterious. Alumna Saylor Small (Theatre Arts and English, B.A.), who graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan this spring, has found her first post-graduation theatre job as a costume designer for Matilda: The Musical at The Stage Theater in Hickman, Nebraska.

“It’s been such a learning experience,” Small says. “I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate with people, what I want and don’t want in a job, how much creativity I have working on my own…At Wesleyan, I had so many opportunities to be creative, but it was more of a student experience, whereas this is a full adult experience.”

Small had worked prolifically as a costume designer on Wesleyan shows, recently including Seussical, And Then There Were None, and A Shayna Maidel. On her transition from working as a student at Wesleyan, she explains, “Now I really am on my own. [In college] I really had a safety net to lean on with my professors, costume shop workers…on this, I have the resources if I search for them, and I’m so grateful for them, but a lot of it is on me. It’s my name not Wesleyan’s name anymore, and that raises the stakes for me.”

Small discussed another interesting and rewarding facet of working on the show: the cast is overwhelmingly children. “I didn’t think I would be interacting with the cast a lot,” she reflects. “They are just such good kids and such great performers; they surprise me. They’re all so thoughtful and creative in their own ways. It’s made me learn more about this production talking to them, hearing their great thoughts, even in the costumes area. They have some really great insights.”

Collaborators came up many times in the interview. Small cites Rebecca Armstrong, NWU professor and costume shop manager, as her mentor and a major source of support throughout Matilda, as well as enthusing about her work with Director Blake Tobey and Jovany Hernandez Corona, a current Nebraska Wesleyan Theatre student.

An anecdote Small gave was working with Tobey’s motif of bubbles. “Blake really wanted to focus on bubbles, and the concept of a bubble,” she says. “Bubbles are transparent and they’re delicate, but they also have a wonder to them. And that’s a lot like childhood. You’ll notice in some costumes, especially Miss Honey’s, there’s a lot of blue and white, which I wanted to symbolize bubbles.” She adds, “Blue is a very trusting color, so I wanted to incorporate that into our characters we find to be the most hopeful.”

Small also incorporates her impressions seeing Matilda on Broadway when she was twelve, stating, “The feeling I got from the show was just a sense of fun, a sense of joy, and a sense of imagination—those three key words are the things that I got from Matilda and that I want to incorporate into costumes and have the audience feel.”

Tobey mirrors excitement about the collaboration, saying, “It has been very awesome to be able to work with developing professionals and professional theatre artists on this production…One thing I’m really excited about is that there’s a lot of kids in this cast. This is their first big production, and I’m excited that they’re getting such an awesome experience.”

What’s Small’s plans for future work? “Keep making art out of clothes…and creating things that people can feel something for.”

Matilda: The Musical will be showing at The Stage Theater in Hickman, NE July 14-17 and July 21-24, 2022. Tickets are available now on The Stage website.