Costume donations help rebuild theater program in New Orleans

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans two years ago, it all but washed away the theater program at Dillard University, a historically black, liberal arts college in the Gentilly District, just afew steps from the Ninth Ward.

Floodwaters left the stage floor warped and the adjacent orchestra pit filled with turtles and snakes. The scene shop and costume shop were ruined.

Waiting in the wings were four Iowa colleges ready to help. Theater faculty at the University of Iowa and University of Nothern Iowa launched Costume Connection. Along with Cornell and Coe, they donated costumes to help restock the costume shop; University of Iowa personnel helped rebuild the stage and orchestra pit for temporary use.

"The costumes we donated came from culling through our current stock, which is always larger than the storage space we have available," says Jenny Nutting Kelchen, costume designer in Cornell's department of theatre and communications studies. "We pulled items that were still in usable condition and could possibly be useful to a department starting from scratch."

Cornell sent eight boxes of costumes, and Dillard is welcoming more. The Dillard theater department's 2007-2008 season features Topdog/Underdog, Gem of the Ocean, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

"Understandably, costume restoration is not on the priority list for the university. However, the fact that we could help take care of this one problem made a difference," said Tisch Jones, University of Iowa associate professor of theater arts and a New Orleans native.