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Kirsteen Buchanan ’83 takes on challenges of costuming for Okoboji

July 25, 2016

When the Okoboji Summer Theatre Company needs a costume designer to focus on the early 20th century or present day, they look no further than Stephens’ own Kirsteen Buchanan ’83. Buchanan is currently an associate professor in the School of Design as well as a graduate of Stephens’ Fashion program, but she’s spent many summers at OST designing costumes for productions.

This summer, Buchanan tackled the heavy task of costuming for “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the classic adaptation based on the memoirs of a Jewish girl hiding with her family from persecution during World War II. Buchanan revels in the time period. The previous summer, she worked on “To Kill a Mockingbird” (for a second time), a classic drama set during the Great Depression.

“We go in with a very limited budget and the timing is very compressed,” Buchanan explained. “We have just two weeks to work on the costumes once we get to Okoboji. So first we begin by spending time here at campus pulling existing garments from the Stephens Costume Shop, then everything gets packed up in the truck and heads up to Iowa for the summer along with all of the set pieces and furniture. We also source local thrift shops for garments we can tailor and incorporate. Then, it’s time to rent, buy or build any garments we still need.

“Research is very important, and that’s a learning moment for our students, as not all of them have been involved in that level of research or been exposed to certain periods in costume history before. You have to get the details right.”

“The Diary of Anne Frank” also presented unique challenges in that the actors all remained on the stage throughout the production and had to be able to change right on stage, she said.

“It was an honor to be part of the show and working with Gail (the dean of performing arts) who directed the production was great,” Buchanan said. “She has a real vision and provides very thorough and complete research, but she also cultivates a very collaborative process.”

Buchanan has also worked on “Hay Fever” and “Anastasia,” both set in the ’20s; “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” set in 1939; and “Present Laughter,” of the same period. In addition, she has worked on many productions set in the modern day. “I’ve worked with Lamby Hedge (associate professor) quite often through the years,” Buchanan says. “She has been my champion. Her knack for creating visual interest with intricate details makes for outstanding productions. All of the Theatre faculty are highly supportive.”

The tradition of summers at OST all started for Buchanan when she was a student at Stephens. “I was a Fashion student at Stephens, but I took a costuming class with Patty Doyle, and she encouraged me to go to OST on an internship,” she said. “I loved it, and went back the next year, too. It’s beautiful up there. I enjoy the lake and the ambience. More importantly, you have the opportunity to focus there and become thoroughly immersed in what you’re doing. I love how the students are eager to learn and are respectful of the process. The Costume Shop staff is excellent.

“I’m excited for the 60th season and hope there’s a place for me. I am always ready to be a part of Okoboji.”  

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