BYB Spotlight: Costume Mistress Cindi McKay


Our next spotlight is on BYB’s Costume Mistress Cindi McKay!

It’s unusual for a school of our size to have a dedicated Costume Mistress, which is why we’re so very thankful for all of the hard work that Cindi does to make our productions look so professional.

You can’t miss Cindi…she’s usually got yards of fabric or a tape measure in hand. And, she’s usually at her sewing machine or rummaging through the storage room for just the right rick-rack or button to add that perfect finishing touch.

Her smiling face and can-do spirit help to make BYB a special place. And, her expertise and fast-as-lightning fingers mean that there’s nothing she can’t create or mend.

She’s been especially busy working on a new Mother Ginger costume for our upcoming Nutcracker In One Act, so when you see her at BYB or backstage, please tell her thank you for all her hard work and dedication!

An Interview with Cindi McKay:

How did you become involved with BYB?

My daughter, Charissa, started at BYB when she was about six-years-old. She’d been dancing with Parks & Rec for three years, but only liked the ballet parts, not the jazz or tap. So, I took her over to be evaluated during BYB’s open house. I had met Adalhi a couple years before that at a homeschool back-to-school event where she had an information booth set up.  She had impressed me so much that I actually remembered, so that’s why I called BYB.  

During my daughter’s evaluation, I learned that they offered ballet for adults as well as children. I have always loved ballet and wished I could take classes, so when Jen and Adalhi offered to let me take class in exchange for a little sewing, I jumped at the chance. My first sewing projects for BYB were some skirts for the very first Dia de Los Muertos.  The ballet classes for me didn’t last long (life got in the way), but I kept sewing.

At first, Joshua just tagged along. He is the youngest child, and although my two oldest sons were able to stay home by themselves for short periods of time, I wasn’t going to charge them with caring for their little brother. After a couple of years, Josh expressed an interest in taking ballet as well. He did both soccer and ballet for two years, but then when we asked him to choose just one, he picked ballet.

As time went on, I started sewing more and more, first as a volunteer, then for work study, and now as a staff member. One day, Adalhi asked me what it would take for me to quit my preschool teaching job and come to work for BYB. It was a wonderful opportunity and one which I had been dreaming about for a long time. 

How long have you been doing this for BYB?  Does it get easier?  

This is my ninth year all told, although not at my current level. I became the Costume Mistress in the spring of 2011 at a volunteer level,  and came on staff officially in February 2012. It does get easier. I learn new things every day. At the same time, I am taking on new challenges and stretching my abilities. 

What’s your design background?  Are you self-taught?  How long have you been sewing/creating? 

Everything I’ve learned about design has been learned by just doing it. I’ve never had a formal sewing class in my life. My mother taught me basic sewing skills as a child, and I’ve just built on those skills here and there. I study people’s clothes, look at pictures of costumes online, watch videos, read costuming blogs, and study patterns. Then, there is a lot of trial and error and “futzing.”  I love it when I get the opportunity to talk with other costumers and share tips, tricks and techniques. 

You’ve created a new Mother Ginger and it’s been a huge undertaking!  Tell us about that.

I started trying to create a new Mother Ginger three years ago. Did you know it is impossible to find a pattern for Mother Ginger?  So, I studied pictures and videos.

My first design was not strong enough. I tried to leave an opening in the front of the frame to allow kids to come out from under the skirt. The thing rollercoastered!  Last year we redesigned it and put it on a cart. It was much more stable, and kept its shape, but dragged and looked like a giant flag. It didn’t look like a dress at all.

As soon as the spring show was over I went back to work and redesigned it again. And again. And again. By the time I had to start work on our fall show, I had the frame mostly right and a plan for the actual dress that everyone can see!  

As soon as Nightingale was over, I went back to work on Mother Ginger. I finished it the night before our studio dress rehearsal. There are a few minor tweaks to make on it before next year’s Nutcracker, but I finally did it!  Who knew one had to be an engineer to make costumes?

What’s it like backstage the week before a performance?

You mean the week of the performance?  I love to be backstage during a show! It’s almost as magical as being onstage. There are periods of calmness punctuated by frenzied quick changes and the occasional emergency costume or prop repair. Shows like Nutcracker, that we do annually, have fewer emergency fixes mid-show than brand new productions. It takes a while to work out all the kinks. 

What’s the one thing you’re going to do after Nutcracker is over that you haven’t had time to do?

Clean my house!!! But it’s hard to pick just one thing. There are so many, many things…wrap presents, go Christmas shopping, clean out my inbox, spend time with my family, cook, look through my seed catalog…the list goes on.

But, really, Nutcracker is never over. When this one is done, I will start working on next year! I already have things in mind that need to be repaired, refurbished, or completely recreated.