For University theater arts major Casey Reece-Kaigler, fabric, color and texture are what make the stage come alive.
Reece-Kaigler has a passion for costume design and a niche interest in creating a fictional world of her own.
When Reece-Kaigler combines her imagination and creativity with her love for theater and puppetry, she finds herself in constant creation.
Growing up in a small town, Reece-Kaigler said she never expected to go to school for theater.
However, despite her lack of exposure to costume design and theater before attending the University, Reece-Kaigler said characters and costumes have always caught her eye, particularly the design in movies.
“There are certain movies that just display fabulous costumes that do some fantastic things with color,” Reece-Kaigler said. “However, with costume for theater, there is room to explore and expand. It is OK if the costume looks unrealistic because that’s what makes it theatrical.”
For the past two years, Reece-Kaigler has played the role of the costume and puppet designer for the University theater. She listens closely and devotes her attention to capturing the image of the characters and intention of the play directors to effectively create fitting costume creations.
For Reece-Kaigler, it is not just the design that she loves, but her interests extend to all aspects of theater.
“I enjoy the idea of theater in general,” Reece-Kaigler said. “There is nothing I enjoy more than creating a whole new world, and when the show is over, you can tear it down and re-use materials again.”
Although Reece-Kaigler is fascinated by theater and costume design in general, the time she dedicates toward designing puppetry is what she enjoys most. The University doesn’t offer a puppetry program, but that hasn’t stopped Reece-Kaigler from studying puppetry on her own.
“The reason why I enjoy puppets so much is because there is something about being able to communicate ideas to people by using an object that is fascinating,” Reece-Kaigler said. “You can manipulate puppets and give them life; there is something magical and eerie about it.”
Reece-Kaigler has worked on the design for many University productions, and she said her favorite was last year when she got to work on “Around the World in 80 Days.” For this show, she got to create the puppets for the jungle scenes, including panthers, monkeys and snakes. Not only did she get to build and create puppets, but she also said the overall look and theme of the production was amazing.
“I got to piece together the puppets for this, and they were created by all old parts. It was something that looked all thrown together but worked very well in the design aspect,” Reece-Kaigler said.
Currently, Reece-Kaigler is the assistant costume designer for the University production “Burning Vision,” and she’s been working with the costume designer to create a specific and detailed look.
Her most challenging task for this production is the creation of a traditional Japanese puppet that normally would require years of training. However, Reece-Kaigler has used her expertise to create a puppet in similar style to that of the traditional one. The puppet is set to feature a traditional silk kimono in a vibrant color.
Reece-Kaigler and graduate theater student Erika Hauptman share a common interest in puppetry. Hauptman, the costume designer for “Burning Vision” has worked with Reece-Kaigler on many occasions and said is a quick learner.
“Casey and I first met because we share an interest in not only theater but puppetry, and we latched onto each other right away,” Hauptman said. “When I need an assistant, I think right away, ‘I need Casey.’ She has that artistic eye and always exceeds my expectations.”
When designing a show, Reece-Kaigler said the most important thing is understanding the views of the people you’re working with.
She recalls designing a dance performance and having to work a lot the choreographer to fully understand her vision.
“For designing a show, it is all about collaboration,” Reece-Kaigler said. “We have production meetings every week with all the designers and directors, and we all contribute in creating the scene.”
For now, she understands the importance of teamwork when working on theater
productions, but she says eventually she would like to create things of her own.
“I look forward to the day when I can do my own shows and come up with the concept myself. I can’t wait to bring my own ideas to life,” Reece-Kaigler said. “At the same time, it’s still nice to hear others’ ideas, because they bring up things I would never have thought of before.”
Eventually, she would like to open up her very own puppet theater company where she would combine costumes, puppetry and music.
Reece-Kaigler said that there are aspects of puppets that not only intrigue her, but make her want to bring them to life.
“Usually when people think of puppets, they think of “Sesame Street” or something to do with children,” she said. “For me, puppets bring a circus aspect to theater and bring life to a stage; it is just a spectacular style of performance.”
Reece-Kaigler recalls watching street performers in France dressed as marionettes. The puppets had a small music box and were pretending to crank each other up with a giant key while dancing to music.
“This is the kind of circus culture that appeals to me, and this is what I want to incorporate in my own puppet theater,” she said.