The Dream Maker
Tara Raczenski has opened a ‘costume closet’ to the communityBy Lori Grossman
Tara Raczenski knows just about everything there is to know about costumes. She should — she’s the costume shop manager and seamstress for the Little Theatre of Winston-Salem.
The theatre has always been in Tara’s blood.
She was born in Kentucky to parents with a theatre background and, following in their footsteps, earned her theatre degree at a small Oklahoma college, dreaming of a career onstage. But those dreams were put on hold when she married at age 21 and started a family.
After moving to High Point in 2015, Tara began volunteering in Winston-Salem’s Little Theatre costume department.
“I just wanted to be part of it,” she says. “I had no training. I’d made some doll clothes, but that was all.” Under the guidance of then Costume Shop Manager Jeannette Brown, the pieces fell into place.
“I loved creating things. And each production presented different challenges and opportunities,” she explains.
The Costume Shop creates apparel for each production. Tara attended “shop calls” that brought together volunteers of all skill levels. In February 2020, Tara became costume shop manager just as the pandemic was taking hold.
“The Little Theatre closed, but I kept volunteering,” Tara says. “We shifted to making masks during the shutdown.”
A few months into the pandemic, Philip Powell, executive director of the Little Theatre, was looking for a place to store the theatre’s stockpile of costumes. Tara estimates that the treasure trove amounts to from 10,000 to 15,000 costumes and accessories. The Little Theatre opened in 1935 and the historic collection might have been lost without the cooperation of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
“They allowed us to use the old Hanes Middle School,” she says. “We built rails and shelves in some of the former classrooms to hold the clothing and accessories. And scenery is built in the old gym. We use the space, and in exchange, we act as a lending library for their productions.”
The collection settled into its new home, but new productions were still on hold. In August 2021, Tara finally returned on a part-time basis. And with pandemic fears easing, she wanted to open the new closet to the community.
Before the pandemic, the Little Theatre rented costumes to schools, church groups, and to the public for Halloween. Now costume rentals would be open to the public year-round (see box above).
The Closet of Dreams has almost every costume you might want — from the Wizard of Oz to Disney characters. Or even Elvis.
“I’ve always loved dressing up for Halloween, so it’s fun to help others find costumes,” she says. “But Halloween isn’t the only time for costumes. Some people dress up for Oscar Night watch parties, for example.”
If you’d rather help make costumes, Tara says volunteers of all ages and skill levels are welcome. There are always new productions coming up and new costumes to make. Tara looks forward to all of it.
“As long as I keep growing and gaining new skills, I’ll keep doing this.”
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