Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A Center for opera—and for fighting COVID-19

Left: Susan Davis, Costume Director; photo by Alan Alabastro. In the Seattle Opera Costume Shop, Shanna Sincell, Laura Girardot, and Kate Hartman have assisted with the 100 Million Masks challenge.  

While the global pandemic has shuttered much of Seattle as we know it, a few people have still been hard at work in the Opera Center this spring. Rather than an opera destined for the McCaw Hall stage, these Seattle Opera staff members created masks to protect against COVID-19.

“Amid the stress that all of us are feeling, I am so glad that the opera could contribute in this tangible way,” said Seattle Opera Costume Director Susan Davis, who supervised an operation for Providence St. Joseph out of the Costume Shop. In less than four weeks—and working at least 6 feet away from one another—Davis’s team members produced 10,877 masks.

During the global pandemic, demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) has created a severe shortage across the world. While waiting for regular distribution channels to ramp up, Providence created the 100 Million Masks challenge to help in the interim.

When the Providence staff came to pick up the masks, seeing their reaction was especially rewarding.

“The look on their faces—you could tell there was some direct impact there," Davis says.

The masks were made from kits cut at Kass Tailored from hospital-grade materials, and were sewn by members of the Theatrical Wardrobe Union 887. The workers included Shanna Sincell, Laura Girardot, and Kate Hartman at the Seattle Opera shop, and other theaters across town such as Seattle Rep, Seattle Children’s theater, and ACT, also contributed.

Images from Candace Frank's Instagram of Crafters Against COVID-19 Seattle efforts. Frank is a costume designer who has previously worked with Seattle Opera on Il trovatoreThe Combat and for productions with the Young Artist Program.
Meanwhile, a flurry of crafting, measuring of fabric and elastic, was happening two floors up from the Costume Shop, where rehearsals for La bohème would have been taking place in the West Studio. Davis—along with Seattle Opera Stage Manager Yasmine Kiss, have been volunteering with a group called Crafters Against COVID-19, organized by Candace Frank—Costume Designer for Il trovatore (2018).

“People have been amazed by the scale of this project and what we’ve been able to do,” said Frank, whose team has delivered more than 35,000 so far, including 100 to essential employees at the Opera Center. “I think some have underestimated just how much people in the arts can get done. We have always been highly creative and able to produce with little time and money. Running a Costume Shop is a giant operation, for example.”

Frank and her colleague Gwynedh Van Allan created Crafters Against COVID-19 Seattle as a means of creating masks for medical centers, hospice organizations, homelessness workers and more in the Seattle Metro area. Overall, the group has more than 2,300 members who communicate with one another via a Facebook group. They recently made and delivered 600 masks for the Fred Hutchinson vaccine trials.

When the threat of COVID-19 passes, both Frank and Davis look forward to someday returning to their normal work in opera and theater. Of course, it will be a new type of normal.

“The arts have always been, and will continue to be, a place to create community and understand shared human experiences," Davis said. How that will change in the future, I don't know. Perhaps we will tap into local talent more frequently—there's certainly a wealth of talent here in the Pacific Northwest.”

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