At LaGuardia High School on New York’s Upper West Side, students are busy preparing for their upcoming production of “Sweet Charity.” With famous alumni like Jennifer Aniston and Al Pacino, LaGuardia’s rigorous drama program is known for its top-notch, talented actors.
This year, the student actors in “Sweet Charity” won’t just give Broadway-quality performances; they’ll also be wearing Broadway-quality costumes.
During a visit to the school last week, a team of technical theater students was hard at work, assembling costumes for the show, which opens December 7. The students still had to finish sewing enough sparkling blazers and pants to outfit an entire 16-person marching band.
It’s a daunting task that would have been impossible with the old, overused, broken-down sewing machines that used to be the students’ only option.
“We probably had three maybe-working machines on a day-to-day basis, which we were spending tons of money on with repairs,” said Alexa Zelliger, a senior at LaGuardia. “They were all over the place.”
Repairing and replacing the old sewing machines cost money that LaGuardia High School—which recently underwent a $300,000 budget cut—could not afford to spend. But luckily for the costume shop, sewing company SINGER recently donated four new sewing machines and four irons to the department.
Sandy Faison, coordinator of the Drama and Technical Theater Studios at LaGuardia, is excited that her student actors will get to wear new, high-quality costumes.
"These extraordinary costumes have a powerful effect on the actors in terms of enabling them to complete their characters,” Faison said. “They are another tool the actors use in crafting their role.”
Now, with the addition of the SINGER machines, the LaGuardia costume shop can function more efficiently than ever. Productivity is crucial in the costume shop, since the students’ workload goes far beyond the normal expectations for high school.
“I worked in wardrobe on Broadway for five years, and the level of production that happens here mimics that,” costumes director David Quinn said.
Zelliger said that the school’s productions have been increasingly more elaborate, and so the donation from SINGER could not have come at a better time.
“Let’s talk about how fantastic that was,” Alexa said excitedly, in regards to the donation. “When SINGER made this donation, it helped us so much with everything we really needed. The shows became bigger and bigger as we developed our costume shop, scene shop, props shop, and electrics studio, so the demand for costumes and the demand for actors became much bigger, so we really needed something to sustain the amount of work that we were doing.”
Christine Denham, a parent volunteer in the technical theater department, stressed that a public school like LaGuardia absolutely depends on relationships with companies like SINGER. Denham's hope is that SINGER “adopts” LaGuardia’s costume shop, and saves the department from having to constantly search for funding that just isn’t there.
“Public schools cannot survive without private industry partnerships,” Denham said.
In the past, other companies like Lowes, W.W. Grainger, and N.Y. Presbyterian Hospital have made helpful donations, like the one from SINGER. The students working the scene shop, for example, were cutting all their wood by hand until Lowes graciously donated a number of electric saws last year.
And let’s not forget the actors, whose use of the new costumes will elevate their performances to near-professional standards.
"Thank you SINGER,” said Harry Shifman, director of “Sweet Charity.” “The many dozens of extravagant costumes brilliantly created by David Quinn and his staff could easily be at home on today's Broadway stage.”