What do Corban’s last 18 plays have in common?
A talented, spunky costumer named Shaula Coulson who is virtually unknown outside the theater department. Coulson has been a vital part of the last decade of drama on campus. She has helped create the wardrobe for every drama since 1998 – free of charge.
Her funky glasses and curly dark hair are often the only visible parts of her as she toes open a door to the Psalm Center, balancing a rainbow colored mountain of costume pieces.
“I don’t really have time to act, so this is really second best,” Coulson said. A Corban alumna and actress herself, Coulson has acted in musical theater plays such as “Godspell,” “Bye Bye Birdy,” and “The King and I.” During her time at Corban, Coulson was a part of a college-sponsored singing group called Master’s Touch.
This year, she is already hard at work on the costumes for Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” scheduled to start showing in November.
Even though Coulson is a full time nurse, she spends 24 hours per week for six to eight weeks researching and assembling the costumes for each play. She estimates that it takes from 144 to 192 hours to dress the cast for one play.
“At one point, she was working three jobs, making our costumes and making costumes for her daughter’s play,” said Tamara McGinnis, head of the theater department at Corban. “She does it to relax, which is weird.”
While some costume pieces must be rented, Coulson prefers to stitch together as many as she can at home, using a Hello Kitty sewing machine she keeps in the bedroom she shares with her daughter.
Her work area is neatly crammed with an extra sewing machine, an ironing board, pins, needles and bobbins: items that will help her build 20 different costume pieces for the fall play. A shelf in her room is crowded with spools of thread in every color. Stacked on the floor are patterns for capes, dresses, bonnets, and even a pirate costume. On the table beside her sewing machine sits a recent addition: a serger that can hem up a garment and trim off the excess fabric in one step.
“God gave me the ability to sew in a straight line, and when God puts things in front of you, I think you should do them,” said Coulson. “The hard thing is I’m a perfectionist. There’s a rule: If you can’t see it from 30 feet away, don’t bother. I’ve had to really relax and say ‘good enough.’”
She has assembled costumes for plays set in ancient Egypt, Greece and Persia; the American Civil War era; 17th-century France; the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1990s. For “Twelfth Night,” she is adding the Regency period to her repertoire, the era in which most Jane Austen stories are set.
Even though this is Coulson’s 19th play at Corban, new challenges still pop up. This year, the director has asked Coulson to create some costume distinctions between the groups of characters based on nationality.
“She wants the Illyrians to look different from the people who come in on the boats,” said Coulson, “I have no idea how to do that!”
Although Coulson’s mother and daughter, Claire, are both professional seamstresses, Coulson’s knack for piecing things together is a self-taught skill. She is involved in every step of the creation of the wardrobe; from researching styles and fabric; to fitting and measuring the actors; to selecting color schemes and accessories.
Despite her years of experience creating wardrobes for Corban, Chemeketa Community College and McNary High School, Coulson is quick to minimize her talents.
“I don’t consider myself a real costumer,” she said.
Although Coulson may not consider her self a real costumer, her student assistant, Sophia Tremaine, is impressed with her work.
“It’s easy to costume a show. It’s hard to make the costumes fit the show. That’s what she’s really good at,” said Tremaine.
Although she loves expressing her creative flare behind the scenes, Coulson would also like to return to the stage.
“I hope I get to act again someday,” she said.
Coulson’s costumes for “Twelfth Night” will make their debut November 13 -15 and 20-22 in the Psalm Performing Arts Center.