The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 15, 2013

Woman's keen eye for supplies, skills as a seamstress makes magic on stage

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — In the belly of Memorial Auditorium, far beneath the stage where actors are rehearsing lines as they make their way from Munchkinland to the Emerald City, three young men are being transformed into Winkies.

"Hold your arm out," said Lisa Quinteros, 41. Although, because she has straight pins in her mouth, it comes out more like, "Hlldd rrr ohm ut."

Surrounded by mounds of cloth in shades of green, actor Austin VanBeclaere complies with her request -- as a regular Pittsburg Community Theatre performer, he's used to the drill.

So is Quinteros. Since she was 17, she has crafted costumes for the theater group, and since 28 has been designing them for Pittsburg State University's theater department. She's not sure how many shows there have been, recalling them by name, not number.

"There was 'Hello, Dolly,' that was my first. And 'Alice in Wonderland.' 'Pippin.' I did 'The Hobbit,' 'Jungle Book,' 'King Stag,'" she said as she turned her attention to picking out pairs of pants for the three Winkies. "A lot. A lot of shows. I don't know how many."

On this night, 16 days until "The Wizard of Oz" opens to a run of five performances, Quinteros sees a steady stream of actors coming in and out of her basement costume shop. Amid the hum of sewing machines operated by volunteers, she frequently checks a wall where small cards -- one for each character in the play -- are tacked. She'll need at least one costume for each, and in many cases, several.

Some will be more challenging than others. The monkeys will fly. A special rig with harnesses being brought in for the show will hoist them above the stage, and they'll need wings to complete the effect.

'Creativity and imagination'

"Little metal spines from umbrellas," Quinteros says to Parker Leas, 10, one of the smallest monkeys, as an explanation of what she is using to construct the wings. "I'm going to cover them with latex. I'm hoping they're light enough to put inside your jacket and rig you in the harness."

With a limited budget and a couple of decades of shows under her belt, Quinteros is adept at transforming ordinary objects, low-grade material from discount stores, thrift shops and previously worn costumes from past shows into new costumes. Before the curtain goes up on July 25, she and a volunteer crew of seamstresses and tailors that, like Quinteros, are spending nearly every evening in the costume room will have outfitted a cast of 70 for pennies on the dollar.

"The amount of creativity and imagination that Lisa puts into her costume designs is amazing," said Jason Huffman, who serves as manager and technical director at Memorial Auditorium. "I am always in awe with the way she can look at a pile of fabric and old dresses and create some totally new out of something I think is just rags."

When pressed, she counts "The Jungle Book" as one of her best accomplishments.

"With 'Jungle Book,' she designed costumes out of origami," said PSU theater instructor Gil Cooper, who has worked with her on several shows. "It was particularly impressive. So was her work on creating fairies for 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' and her angel wings for 'Marisol' were incredible."

He noted that because Quinteros also has a bachelor's degree in history, she pays particular attention to historical period detail with costuming in order to achieve authenticity with a character.

"Lisa is a jewel for Pittsburg and Southeast Kansas," Cooper said. "Her knowledge, expertise and skill at design and producing costumes is phenomenal."

Huffman, who is directing "Oz," has worked with Quinteros for 14 years in PCT shows.

"It has been a privilege to watch her create everything from fairy wings and walking-school supplies to elegant dresses that belong in a 1940s dance club," Huffman said. "She is a huge asset to performing arts in Southeast Kansas."