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'Hero' Is Their Middle Name: Entertainment Artists Answer the Call for PPE

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'Hero' Is Their Middle Name: Entertainment Artists Answer the Call for PPE

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the heroic efforts of first responders, frontline healthcare professionals, and essential workers have moved and inspired regular folks the world over to mobilize in the fight against the virus.

The arts community is no different with many of our artists using their skills to aid relief efforts. Since the start of the outbreak, designers, seamstresses, performers, and other individuals with the necessary skills have joined the effort to provide face masks and other personal protective equipment.

Members of theatrical unions have joined the ranks of the effort with branches of IATSE's Theatre Wardrobe Locals and the Hollywood Costumers Locals all answering the call for PPE in various ways.

Here in New York, members of the Broadway community and beyond have joined the Urban Resource Institute and IATSE Local 764 to create a minimum of 1,200 masks. More than 50 volunteers, including members of the NYC Sewing Community, have combined their skills to make masks for those in need.

IATSE Local 764 and 829 member, Beverly Law, has made and distributed over 375 masks over the past month.

She says of the effort, "It is nice to use my skills to give back in some way. As we watch the numbers of cases grows, I hope to contribute number of masks to combat and balance out those sad numbers with some good numbers. I am a proud union member and proud that we as a union have stepped up to get involved during this crisis."

To help others join the effort, Beverly is sharing her process, video tutorials, step by step photos, and other tips on her Instagram page, @SewBevy.

Former Radio City Rockette and Broadway dancer, Karyn Tomczak has also joined the effort, using the sewing skills learned from her grandma as a child to sew face masks for friends, family, neighbors, and URI.
Joining these industry professionals are some amazing civilians, including essential workers, who are using their free time to create and distribute PPE.

Annick Vuissoz, an essential employee working full-time amid the COVID-19 crisis, has been using her own material and spending extra time to make masks for her community.

Veena Mosur was the first person to respond to URI's request for seamstresses to help make masks for shelters and the first to provide finished masks. In addition, Mosure has worked diligently to connect others the sewing community to join the effort.

Self-taught seamstress, Ashley Cannon, learned to sew masks through Youtube and Pinterest tutorials. She says of the effort, "I couldn't be happier to find organizations that have banded together to provide those things! I think when the world looks like it does, the only thing we can do is be kind to each other and support one another any way we can!"

In addition to the efforts of these amazing theatre professionals and individuals, hospitals and other healthcare facilities have seen donations of PPE from the prop stock of films and television shows, including the Ryan Murphy drag drama, Pose, which donated its stores of medical prop supplies to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Television first responder and medical procedurals, including Grey's Anatomy, The Good Doctor, Chiacgo Med, Chicago Fire, and Chicago M.D. and more have also donated their surplus of medical props to the cause.

The fashion world has gotten in on the act as well, with designer and Broadway fan, Christian Siriano, mobilizing his team of seamstresses to create face masks as well as a line of special edition masks now on sale to raise funds for the project.

These examples are just a fraction of the work being done by professional and amateur arts and entertainment organizations all over the country (and world!) who have answered the call for PPE in their communities.

Learn more about the amazing work being done by various organizations below!


Brooklyn, NY

Target Margin Theater's WE WILL CARE FOR YOU initiative, a performative action distributed 100 face masks via bike messenger across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.

Handmade by award-winning costume designers Dina El-Aziz, Ásta Bennie Hostetter, and Normandy Sherwood, 50 face masks were made available to the public for a contribution. An additional 50 were donated to The Academy of Medical and Public Health Services who will distribute them for free to essential workers and undocumented community members in South Brooklyn.

Read more here.


Los Angeles, CA

Center Theatre Group 2019 Dorothy & Richard E. Sherwood Award recipient, performer and writer Kristina Wong, is still making art and using the diverse set of theatre skills that helped her create her latest work, "Kristina Wong for Public Office." Instead of props and costumes, however, she's sewing masks for essential and front-line workers.

"This is what the art really is right now," she explains in our latest Art Goes On video. "Us taking our compassion and sense of empathy and putting it out in the world."

Read more and learn how to mask your own masks here!


London, England

Between 20 and 30 individuals from across the Royal Opera House costume teams, including dressers for The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera, technicians from the Production Workshops, and both the Running Teams, have created a range of essential personal protective equipment (PPE) including scrubs and hats as well as bespoke items such as bags, ear protectors and masks, for Local NHS Trusts and charitable groups across the country.

Working from home using official NHS Trust-coloured and sourced materials from online crowd funding projects, as well as from local businesses and charitable organizations, they have supplied hundreds of items to those who need them on the frontline of the national fight against Coronavirus.

Read more here.


Binghamton, NY

Tri-Cities Opera launched the Mask Up Southern Tier initiative, or #MUST.

The company creates cloth masks using the tools and supplies from its costume shop, and donating them to healthcare workers or other frontline personnel.

TCO is asking for donations. Every $50 donation will equate to one mask being donated. You can designate where you would like your mask to go and the company will deliver it in your name, or they can deliver it directly to you.

According to the company's website, "Healthcare providers can use these masks as they travel to and from care facilities. They can be provided to patients in a healthcare setting when social distancing is not possible, or they can be used for our front-line employees working with customers in drug stores, grocery stores or restaurants providing take-out food."

Read more here.


St. Louis, MO

Under the leadership of Resident Costume Designer Brad Musgrove and Technical Director Josh Aune, STAGES St. Louis is giving back to the St. Louis community by making face masks and "Ear Saver" head bands.

The masks are constructed using remnants of STAGES costume fabric, so not only will they keep the community safe, but they also represent unique parts of STAGES history.

"The STAGES community of supporters have made our work possible for 34 Seasons. During this difficult time, we are honored to give back by providing complimentary masks to those who have done so much for us," Executive Producer Jack Lane said.

Read more here.


Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Theatre Company are investing their skills and their time into creating masks for medical professionals at Tucson Medical Center.

"We have the time, the skills and the materials and we know the need is great so we're happy to get together to help protect the frontline medical workers who are taking care of our neighbors," said Assistant Production Manager Tajh Oates, who is co-managing the effort with Costume Shop Manager Mary Woll and Marketing Manager Bitty Rosenberg.

"These are incredibly uncertain times, but the response of our team to the pandemic truly shows their humanity," said ATC Managing Director Designee Geri Wright. "Even in the face of their own challenges, they've stepped up to help the medical professionals who are making great sacrifices by putting themselves at risk. I am personally humbled and deeply proud."

Students and faculty of the University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film & Television have responded to the need for face masks and have begun making them for health health workers across Tucson.

"We all have our skills and our talents and we wanted to put them to good use," Trombino-Arthur said. "We wanted to give back to the community and I think part of that is because we are in theater, it comes from the heart."

Read more here and here.


Paris, France

The Paris Opera is making masks to aid people during the health crisis. Since early April, Christine Neumeister, the costume director of the Paris Opera, has been collecting masks 30 of her couturiers have made while locked down at home. The first week they made 1,000 for the Red Cross and a Paris maternity hospital. The following week they made a similar number for the Salvation Army.

Other French opera houses including Toulouse Opera in southwest France are taking part in the efforts as well.

The team at Marseille Opera has been applying social distancing rules in their studio every day to craft masks for the local authorities, using the opera's own stock of fabrics.

Read more here and here.


Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee Rep has partnered with First Stage and Milwaukee Ballet to leverage resources to make masks and face shields for frontline workers at Children's Hospital, Froedert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Ten Milwaukee Rep employees, working in conjunction with First Stage and Milwaukee Ballet produce 700-800 masks per week for Children's Hospital with an additional 100 masks going to Froedert every week.

Twelve other employees, with the help of their families, are creating over 8,000 paper surgical masks per week for the Medical College of Wisconsin as long as mask-making kits are available. Additionally, Children's Hospital and Froedert will receive 200 face shields over the next 3 weeks that Milwaukee Rep was able to construct with materials found onsite.

Read more here.


Houston, TX

Costume designer Donna Southern Schmidt is using fabric remnants from plays she designed for Main Street Theater to create masks.

The masks are colorful and uplifting, coming from plays like The Wizard of Oz and Sideways Stories from Wayside School. The Oz masks are from the fabric of the Scarecrow and Flying Monkeys' costumes - not your everyday hospital gear.

"Donna is a brilliant designer but she is also a community builder, and this is totally something I would expect her to do," shared MST Founding Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden. "We are honored to have a small part in her efforts, and we know the hospital workers are very grateful for all Donna is doing."

Read more here.


Buenos Aires, Argentina

Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires opera house, has taken to making face masks.

The group making the masks consists of over 50 volunteers, who typically work with the theatre to make stage props, costumes, and special effects.

"This is a factory of dreams," said stage director Enrique Bordolini. "The Colon has this advantage that everything you see on stage, when the curtain opens, is made right here."

"I feel the same joy that I do when I make costumes. For me, it's the same pride and I do it just as happily," said Stella Maris Lopez, the Colon's head seamstress.

Read more on here.


South Bend, IN

The costume shop in the Ball State Department of Theatre and Dance has been transformed into a mask-making workshop. The group, comprised of 15-20 people, has already made 1,285 masks that have been given out to organizations in need.

"We went from doing last-second alterations on costumes to knocking these out as fast as we could," said Emily Ruiz, director of Ball State's costume shop.

Ruiz says that the group has already received donations, but will continue to need more.

"We have already gone through the costume shop's materials and are seeking more to keep our group working around the clock," she said. "The requests keep rolling in."

Read more here.


Atlanta, GA

Artists at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre's costume shop are working to sew masks that will be distributed to Georgia hospitals.

Although the Alliance Theatre remains closed to support the call to limit public gatherings, artists are continuing to work from home to produce the masks. Masks will go to Emory Healthcare and others.

The Atlanta Opera has committed to crafting medical masks for use in area hospitals affected by shortages in personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Atlanta Opera has a fully equipped costume and wardrobe department ready to adapt during the current crisis, and has already received requests for 72,000 masks. Now that work on upcoming productions has ceased, Costume Shop employees are dedicating all their working hours to the effort.

Each mask is designed to cover an N95 respirator mask and prolong its usable life. Joanna Schmink, Costume Director for The Atlanta Opera, created a prototype for the masks and local hospitals are providing operating-room sheets for the Costume Shop employees to use as fabric.

Read more here and here.


Huntington, West Virginia

Students and friends of the Marshall University School of Theatre are manufacturing face masks.

The masks are being distributed to various locations such as Cabell Huntington Hospital Volunteer Services, Family Practice Pharmacy, Huntington Health and Rehabilitation Center, Kanawha Place Assisted Living Facility, Main Street Baptist Church, Marshall Family Medicine, Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital, Presbyterian Manor, and CAMC Women and Children's Hospital. They have also been given to postal workers and UPS drivers, as well as employees and customers of essential services.

Read more here.


Vancouver, British Columbia - Canada

Vancouver Opera costume shop has transitioned from creating stage costumes and working backstage to building masks for the community. The charitable program is being led by Autumn Coppaway, Vancouver Opera Technical Director, and Parvin Mirhady, Head of Costumes.

Coppaway says of the project, "We, as artists, are so diverse and passionate because we expose the greatest and weakest of humanity. In these moments of darkness, art reminds us that we each can be that light. Though our stages are dark, our hearts and spirits are not, and we still have stories to tell. And this is our story and Vancouver Opera's small contribution."

Read more here.


Raleigh, NC

Around twenty volunteers from The Raleigh Little Theatre led by the theater's costume design staff, are using fabrics and materials left over from previous productions to make face coverings for their community.

"Community here at Raleigh Little Theatre really means just that," said Jeremy Clos, assistant costume designer, "With this project, it's really to make a difference to help those front-line healthcare workers, because they are part of our community, too."

Read more here.


Akron, Ohio

Curated Storefront has announced a call for artists to create functional masks to be put into production, sold online at www.CuratedStorefront.org, and exhibited at a Curated Storefront site.

Curated Storefront's hopes to support the creative economy by continuing to provide artists with a source of income. Half of the proceeds from sales will go back to artists directly with the remainder benefiting Curated Storefront.

Learn more here.


Salt Lake City, Utah

Six stitchers from the Utah Opera Costume Shop began creating general protection masks for Salt Lake Regional Medical Center using left over fabric from costumes for the January 2019 production of "The Little Prince." They are also making several hundred stretch extenders to alleviate the uncomfortable rubbing of elastic around the ears from prolonged wearing of masks.

Utah Opera Costume Director, Verona Green. says of the effort, "In this uncertain world where it is hard to know what to do to help, a simple mask is becomes a positive gift that things will get better. I felt strongly about this and the costume shop joined right in."

Read more here.


San Francisco, CA

The university of Santa Cruz costume shop has partnered with UCSC's Environmental Health and Safety department to make face masks for fellow employees.

"When it became obvious that the proper elastic was unavailable, I felt that we should help out," said voluntee Bret 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."

Read more here.


Washington D.C.

The Washington National Opera is working to make masks and other protective equipment for medical professionals in need. Costume director Marsha LeBoeuf and her team have been making face masks for medical personnel at Children's National Hospital, oncology nurses at Sibley Memorial Hospital, and anyone else who needs them.

They're making two types of washable masks, both the kind with elastic loops that fit over the ears and the kind that tie around the head. Staff on average produce between 20 and 30 of them each day.

WNO plans to keep its efforts going as long as there is a demand. LeBoeuf plans to get creative when supplies run out.

Read more here.


Hackettstown & Bergen, New Jersey

In addition to efforts creating cloth masks, the Centenary Stage Company teamed up with WisEngineering, LLC and the larger 3D printing community to produce 3D printed PPE for healthcare personnel on the frontlines.

Centenary Stage Company's Artistic Director, Carl Wallnau said, "From costume design students and volunteers making face masks for the health care workers to now helping by re-purposing our 3D printers to the making of plastic face shields, we remain committed to helping our community at this critical time and applaud everyone who is providing their skills and talent to this fight."

Since the launch of the initiative on April 6, 2020 the collective has received requests for 3D printed PPE throughout NJ, as well as, inquiries from healthcare facilities in Oklahoma, Georgia and several other states.

The Bergen Mask Task Force has also launched to make face coverings and other PPE for healthcare workers

Read more here and here.


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From This Author Alexa Criscitiello