This edition of Who Makes Millersville Special features Priscilla Kaufhold, manager of the University Costume Shop, moving to Jefferson Hall in August.
Q. Where are you from?
A; I was born in Boulder, Colo., then my family moved to western Massachusetts for a decade. When I was in fourth grade, we moved to Lancaster.
Q. Do you have any children?
A; I have three children. Ainslie and Claire are both in college, and Curtis is a junior at Hempfield High School.
Q: Where did you go to college? What did you major in?
A: I attended American University in Washington, D.C., with performing arts – dance degree, and received my MFA from George Washington University in choreography and design.
Q: What did you do and where did you work before coming to Millersville?
A: As an undergrad I worked in the AU Costume Shop for work study. I also choreographed/costumed shows at community theatres, churches and colleges.
Q: How did you originally get into costume design? Who or what inspired you?
A: My interest in costumes came from a number of places. I learned basic sewing skills in middle school, which I honed over the years as I had to hem my own clothes because I am short! My mother was a director/choreographer, so I was around shows being created all my life and performed in many of them.
Q: How long have you worked at Millersville University’s Costume Shop?
I started February 5, 1984 (my birthday). So I have been here for a while. The original Jean Loeb Collection (6,000 costumes) was given to Millersville in 1982.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working at the shop?
A: I really enjoy the customers. There are costume designers searching for their own shows and individuals who are always upbeat and fun to help because they’re acting in a show, going to a party or doing a school project. It is also extremely rewarding when a customer is pleased with what we’ve created new, refurbished or altered for them. We made a couple of chili peppers for a chili cook-off last year, and we’re currently working on a star costume for a business. But spring is the season for high school musicals, so we are also pulling and altering shows.
Q: What are some of your favorite costumes in the MU collection?
A: I like so many of them, but I do have a tender feeling towards ones I’ve created myself over the years. We have a couple of real gems though: In the original Jean Loeb Collection, there is a gown with Betty Hutton’s name written on the Paramount Pictures tag. And I bought a polka dot dress once, from a warehouse in Maryland, of a national tour of “Grease” with Charo’s name on the tag. Unfortunately, it has never been rented because nobody ever has Charo’s figure.
Q: The costume shop holds over 15,000 costumes from many different eras. What is it like maintaining and keeping track of all those costumes?
A: In preparation for our move across campus to Jefferson Hall, we recounted the costumes, and we actually have more than 25,000 hanging costumes and 67 dressers full of costume accessories! The racks are organized by time period, and each rack is in size order, so it can be really frustrating keeping track if garments are returned to the wrong aisle. We are looking forward to being housed in Jefferson so the costumes can spread out a bit. There will also be rooms where I hope to give youth costume creating classes and birthday dress-up parties. But we’ll have to reorganize the Costume Shop first.
Q: What are the weeks leading up to Halloween usually like? How busy does the costume shop get?
A: People tend to wait until the last minute, so it’s really only the two weeks before Halloween that are insane. Repeat Halloween customers know to come in and pick out their costumes early. What really makes it fun is when we are designing/building for a play or two at the same time! New student employees get thrown into the fray as soon as they are hired in the fall.
Q: How many theatre productions have you provided costumes for? What were some of your favorite productions to work on?
A: The shop provides the costumes for an average of 30 theater productions per year. One of my favorite shows was a University Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. It was the first UT show I got to design the costumes and choreograph the show as well! It was set in 1940 Miami, so the costumes were brightly colored; women played men’s roles and vice versa, and the actors had a blast dancing to the swing music.
Q: What is your favorite stage production you’ve seen in terms of costume design?
A: It’s a toss-up between two shows: “Pacific Overtures” or more recently “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” Both were on Broadway, and the designers paid close attention to details—not only history, but fabric choice, stitching, hair, etc., etc. They were wonderful!
Q: Who is your favorite clothing/fashion designer?
A: I don’t know if I have a favorite. I like aspects of several designers’ work. A funny tidbit that happened at the shop years ago was that I bought some end rolls of fabric from the Keystone Weaving Mills [now defunct] in York. One bolt of red fabric had Christian Dior CDs all over it. I ended up making a couple of red-lined black Dracula capes for Halloween. A young customer asked me what the CDs were for and I “lied” and said it meant Count Dracula. Since he believed me, I was too embarrassed to tell him the truth and have felt guilty ever since!
Q: You also work as the artistic director of Kinetics Dance Theatre in Ellicott City, Md. What is your background in dance? How long have you taken dance?
A: Since my mom was a dance teacher and choreographer, I’ve followed in her footsteps. I’ve been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time for both of these half-time jobs (MU Costume Shop and Kinetics Dance Theatre). Polly Traina, who was originally hired to run the MU Costume Shop, took dance classes from my mom. I was back in town after college and looking for a job. She hired me. KDT was in need of a company director 15 years ago, and I had already set three dances on the company in the early 1980s and was looking to balance my working life with another half- time job.
Q: Who or what inspired you to become a dancer?
A: Without hesitation, I’d say my mom Barbara Barden. She was my first modern dance teacher. She taught dance at the Lancaster YWCA for 30 years, was a dance professor at F&M for fifteen years and directed/choreographed the HHS musicals I was in as well as many shows at the Fulton Opera House for different organizations. She inspired many students over the years, not just me.
Q: Do your two jobs often converge with each other? When choreographing dances and shows, how do you decide what costumes would best fit a certain dance?
A: It ends up that I really like to move bodies around—either through movement or changing their silhouette through clothing. Both my halftime jobs have to do with the human body. They support each other. I truly have the most joy when I can merge the two together and choreograph and design costumes for the same production—such as “Fashion & Dance Through the Ages.” My next “merge” will be this fall at the Ware Center again. Dancers will share the stage with Bob Troxell’s Big Big Jazz Band. This show has Swing Band sound, Costume Shop 1940s costumes, and choreography. It will be on November 3 at 3 p.m. I’m so excited to be collaborating. I often have to create my own shows to merge my two loves together!
Q: Last year you organized the gala event “Fashion and Dance Through the Ages” at the Ware Center to celebrate the costume shop’s 30th anniversary. What was it like to research, decide what dances and eras to include in the event, choreograph and decide on the costumes for the event? How long did it take to plan?
A: In 1990, my master’s degree thesis had a performance element to it, where I put together the changes of social dance styles from 1900-1949 and the concurrent clothing fashions into a show. Over the years I’ve added new decades to finish out the 20th century. I’ve been asked to add 2000-2010 for a performance coming up this May, and it’s been a challenge to keep the music, clothing and dance steps family-friendly! For “Fashion and Dance through the Ages,” celebrating the Costume Shop’s 30th anniversary, I added dances from 1500 – 1899, so I could show off more of the great costumes the shop has to offer customers. The “Dancing through the Decades” of the 20th century show has been popular over the years in school and senior centers. We performed it in a middle school a few years back, and a teacher told me afterwards that “I just re-lived my whole life again!”
Q. What are your hobbies outside of work?
A: I volunteer a lot for other organizations. I’m on the board of the Lancaster Summer Arts Festival—and this year is our 50th anniversary of free performing and visual arts downtown throughout June and July. I got to organize the performances for the children’s series held at the YWCA. I also volunteer at the Iris Club, where I am the chairman of the programs committee. I’ve gotten to meet and hire more than 20 artists and presenters for them. It’s been great fun!
Q: What are some of your favorites (food, TV shows, movies, colors, vacation spots)?
A: I grew up going to a lake in southern New Hampshire for the summer and still love going there when I can.
Q. What is something that most people probably wouldn’t know about you?
A: My students at the Costume Shop say that I am a “hoarder.” I like to think of myself as seeing a possibility for creation in all things fabric (or from my recycling bin). I once made a flapper dress out of picnic plasticware as fringe and an astronaut suit out of bubble wrap. Possibilities abound!