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UCSC Theater Arts Costume Shop Team Steps Up to Combat COVID-19

Brent Foland, UCSC Costume Shop Manager

Just over a couple of weeks ago, Brent Foland never imagined that his time would soon be dedicated to building face masks for his fellow UC Santa Cruz employees. As the manager of UCSC’s Costume Shop, he’s usually busy overseeing a vast wardrobe of apparel and making sure it’s in top shape for the next production.

But now, with shelter-in-place requirements being observed, all that has changed. The theaters are dark for the foreseeable future, and face masks have become a key part in keeping us safe from the spread of the coronavirus. 

Jenna Phillips, UCSC Costume Shop Assistant

Within the last week, Foland and his assistant Jenna Phillips have been hard at work sewing two varieties of coverings: face masks and neck gaiters. They’re cooridinating the project with UCSC’s Environmental Health and Safety department, which so far has requested 750 shaped fabric masks and 50 gaiters.

Foland first got the idea about making the masks after hearing from his union about other International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) around the country building masks for their communities. 

“When it became obvious that the proper elastic was unavailable, I felt that we should help out,” said Foland. “We have a very full stock of sewing supplies, so I asked if there was any way Jenna and I could get approval to work in the shop, use the UCSC supplies, and get the masks to UCSC employees in need.”

Since it’s only the two of them working in the shop, Foland and Phillips have made sure to place their sewing machines at least 10 feet apart from one another. All of the material they’re using was already in stock in the Costume Shop and they’ll purchase additional supplies, if necessary.

Mask materials at the UCSC Costume Shop

The shaped woven fabric masks have two layers of fabric and elastic ear loops or two sets of ties. From cutting to completion, they take 25-30 minutes to make. Each also can have a surgical or dust mask inserted in between the two layers for additional protection. 

Foland has put his supply of pipe cleaners to clever use by sewing one into the fabric of each mask around the nose area, so that the mask can be pinched to fit more snuggly.

A completed mask at the UCSC Costume Shop

The neck gaiters are worn around the neck and then pulled up over the nose and mouth, and take about 15-20 each minutes to make.

Foland and Phillips have a very efficient system in place to speed up production where, instead of building complete masks then moving on to the next, they have a step-by-step process. “We are working on each step to make 25 to 40 front layers and the inner lining layers during the first half of the day, then after lunch we sew the two layers together and finish as many as we can before we leave,” said Foland.

Staff from the Environmental Health and Safety department pick up finished masks as they’re done and handle the distribution to employees throughout campus. 

Jenna Phillips sews masks at the UCSC Costume Shop

“The costume shop deserves credit for generously offering to create cloth masks and their willingness to work on campus during a time of such uncertainty,” said Lisa Wisser, director of UCSC’s Environmental Health and Safety department. “The supply chain for masks of any kind is severely impacted, and the campus is not able to purchase and receive commercially made cloth masks as quickly as the costume shop can make them. We are currently supplying campus staff with disposable masks, but these cloth masks will be much more comfortable, especially for those who need to wear a face covering all day. This is truly a service to our campus community.”

A completed mask at the UCSC Costume Shop

Once the mask needs for employees are met, if there are any overages, they’ll be sent to the University of California medical centers.

“Jenna and I are both very thankful to the numerous people who approved this project and for allowing us to do something positive,” said Foland.