Kaelen MacDonald heard about the Bachelor of Arts Honours in Theatre (Costume Studies) from the director of her after-school theatre program. She encouraged Kaelen to apply, noting that half of the reason to train at the post- secondary level is for the connections you can make. Kaelen happily applied to this one-of-a-kind program, and was soon accepted with a scholarship.
"If you have any interest in tailoring, historical dress, working in a costume shop for theatre or film, or costume design, this is the place to be," Kaelen says. Two courses she was excited to take part in were the fourth-year historic dress class, where students spend a year making a historically accurate gown, from underpinnings to final form, as well as the Advanced Seminar in Baroque Culture, which brought the students to the Czech Republic to study abroad in Cesky Krumlov for a month in the summer. This is open to any student. However, for costume students, it provides a unique experience filled with access to historical costumes.
"One of the most rewarding experiences in the program was working on the theatre production The Piper as an assistant costume designer," Kaelen says. "This was one of the first steps towards the career I am pursuing now. I was lucky to be able to assist John Pennoyer, a lauded designer with plenty of funny stories about the biz, and an incredibly calm demeanor."
Kaelen was surrounded by incredibly supportive and helpful professors, and says her experience wouldn't have been nearly as positive without instructors and mentors like Anneke Henderson, John Pennoyer, Elaine MacKay and Hilary Doda, to name a few. Her classmates were also a key part of the experience. After starting with 40 students in the first year introductory class, which is an open elective, Kaelen ended her degree with 10 students who had grown and learned together as friends.
The program also allowed students to take many different directions with their degrees. Even though it's part of the theatre stream at the school of performing arts, fashion, film, professional cosplay and historical recreation are all considered potential career paths.
"This degree was 'a feather in my cap' when it came time to apply to certain positions. This year I've been back and forth as a stitcher at the Shaw Festival Theatre and as a Wardrobe Apprentice here in Halifax at Neptune Theatre. I also work as a costume designer, and was part of the Chrysalis project in its pilot year," she says of her valuable background allowing for these positions to become possible.
In the future, Kaelen wants to be working in design full-time. This program has helped get her foot in the door and highlighted the way for future career growth.