UW News

June 8, 2023

Video: UW School of Drama lead costumer retires after 15 years

Inside Hutchinson Hall, home of the University of Washington School of Drama, students work at tables as they learn to assemble patterns based on costume designs. They’re surrounded by dress forms, bolts of cloth, sewing machines and costumes in progress. This is the Costume Shop, the domain of Val Mayse, master dressmaker for the School of Drama.

Val Mayse, master dressmaker for the UW School of Drama

For years, Mayse has taught a graduate-level class at the UW. Students learn the process of making costumes, from patterning on paper to sewing them together. Each costume begins as a concept envisioned by the show’s director, which becomes a guide for the costume designer to follow in fashioning the individual looks. Master dressmakers, like Mayse, take the plans from the designer and create a finished product.

“It takes a lot of work to take a design and make it real,” Mayse said. “We’re providing opportunities for students to experience what it is like working with a costumer and costume shop.”

Mayse is a beloved fixture in the School of Drama, and many of her students have taken her classes because of her expertise. Brandon Riel, a third-year graduate student, said he had already taken the class once because of Mayse, even though his focus is set design. Mayse worked at the Seattle Rep for 18 years before coming to the UW. Her connections have helped her students find jobs after graduation.

Mayse shifted her work fully online during the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought myriad challenges. Gone were the expansive tables in the costume shop. Gone was the ease of hands-on demonstration. Instead, she had to navigate teaching through technology. Video calls kept everyone connected at a distance, but they weren’t the best for showing the intricate details of a costume. She was grateful when they were all able to finally return to in-person instruction.

“Zoom doesn’t show texture very well,” Mayse said. “We ended up having to send photos of our work to each other. There are some things that are just easier to do in person.”

Mayse will retire at the end of the spring quarter after 16 years with the School of Drama. She is looking forward to finishing up some personal projects and teaching advanced classes for working professionals.

“I’ll still be doing what I love,” she said.