Costume designer Jane Pennington's creations help stitch together seamless illusion for Theatre Lawrence

Jane Pennington works out of her basement designing and making costumes for local theater productions.

Jane Pennington works out of her basement designing and making costumes for local theater productions.

Jane Pennington

  • Position: Costumer for Theatre Lawrence
  • Years at position: Six
  • Average time to complete a costume: 35-40 hours
  • Favorite recent costumes: Sherlock Holmes
  • Favorite overall costumes: Twelfth Night
  • Favorite play: Something Shakespeare

Jane Penningston: costume creation

Costume designer/producer Jane Pennington talks through the process she goes through when creating wardrobes for local productions. Pennington has been working with Theater Lawrence for the past six years.

Only in Lawrence 2011

A special section honoring your neighbors, unsung heroes and people who do the little things that just make life better in Lawrence.

Only in Lawrence 2011: Arts

Read about the honorees in the 2011 Only in Lawrence: "Arts" category.

On any given day, it would be safe to bet that Jane Pennington has safety pins nearby.

They’re tools of her trade.

Pennington, a costume designer for Theatre Lawrence, knows what she’s doing.

“I’ve been sewing since fifth or sixth grade because I was so tall,” the 5-foot-11 Pennington said. “I couldn’t get clothes to fit. It was out of necessity.”

Over the years, that necessity has grown into a passion. Pennington, who holds a degree in theater from Washburn University, stuck with the discipline even after realizing she wouldn’t make it as an actor.

“I’ve always been fairly artistic,” she said. “So designing did sort of fall into my skill range.”

Those skills have taken her across the country and involved her in productions from Shakespeare to Sherlock Holmes. And the job, while fun for Pennington, is also a lot of work. She said she spends, on average, 35 to 40 hours crafting and creating each costume. The full-time profession turned hobby is sometimes daunting, with at least one production on Pennington’s resume boasting more than 100 costumes alone.

But with time comes wisdom and Pennington has become more selective in the productions she chooses to work with. She’s also stayed local, working with Theatre Lawrence the last six years. Area actor Maggie Gremminger has appreciated her dedication.

“The costumes she gives me fit my personality,” Gremminger said. “It’s really an art. She makes the actors’ job that much easier.”

Gremminger knows a thing or two about the importance of costumes. She’s dealt with poor costumers. When a costume doesn’t fit the person or the character, she said it can be distracting and detrimental to a performance.

“It made me lose my focus and confidence,” she said. “I was a wreck. I felt like I was ill-prepared.”

Preparation is crucial in theater productions. Pennington is no stranger to that fact. When starting to design a costume, she undertakes a lengthy process that includes reading the script numerous times, researching the times and looking at a lot of artwork. She also collaborates with set designers for color selections and with directors to incorporate certain personality traits into the costumes.

Piet Knetsch, who has been directing for more than four decades, including more than 15 years with Theatre Lawrence, knows good costumes can enhance the overall appeal of a performance.

“It adds another dimension,” he said. “It helps to transport you back in time, to create that illusion. It’s a really important aspect of what costumes do.”

Through all the trials and tribulations of the process, Pennington said her favorite part of it all is seeing it all come together.

“The performers are always grateful,” she said. “It’s a very cool community.”

It’s also a community Pennington plans on being a part of for a long time to come.

“It’s probably something I’ll always do,” she said. “Just because it’s so much fun for me.”

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