Former Fremonter’s Work Takes Center Stage
Costume design—a singularly fantastic occupation that walks the narrow line between actor and audience, glorious on-stage recognition and unrecognized backstage toil—fabulous whirlwinds of fittings, fabrics, and fringe, and exhaustingly long hours of quiet historical research in the library. Its appeal is evident, and it hooked Aaron Chvatal at an early age. “The seed was definitely planted by the amazing Fremont High School musicals, to which my parents took me every year from an early age,” says Chvatal. “My mother (retired FHS Art Teacher Melody Chvatal) tells me that even as a young boy, I sat quietly through every musical, enthralled by the spectacle on stage.” Aaron also recalls a trip with his father to see CATS the musical in Omaha to be particularly magical. “You feel rather grand in your assigned seat in an opulently gilded theatre house. Then the lights dim, a hush falls over the audience, and the curtain rises. Suddenly, another world is created, just for you. I always knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
After high school, Aaron chose to pursue costume design in earnest. A BFA in Theatre Arts from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota gave him occasions to explore and expand his talents in costume design. During four years at Hamline, Aaron worked full-time in the costume shop producing any and all looks necessary for the main stage productions. He experienced an industrial sewing machine for the first time and quickly learned to “sew like the wind.” Skills such as draping, pattern-drafting, millinery, and makeup were taught on the job, as well as in the classroom.
After graduation, Aaron turned his search to grad school. The University/Resident Theatre Association is a collection of graduate theatre design schools with professional training courses and affiliated professional theatres. U/RTA holds yearly conferences in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles connecting applicants with programs accepting students. “It was exhilarating and terrifying!” says Chvatal. “You are each given a table–all identical–and you set up your portfolio. Your work is all that speaks for you, and if they like your work, they sign up for an interview slot.
“UMKC was the final choice,” says Aaron, “because of the classes offered, the caliber of the productions done there.” UMKC has a reputation for turning out graduates who know how to draw. One of the first graduate design programs to do so, UMKC requires all students to take live model drawing all 6 semesters. By drawing the human form repeatedly, students eventually gain an instinctual understanding of the body. “It was a huge leap for me, to be able to draw a body from the image in my head, and not have to spend hours searching the internet for a picture I could trace.” Many portraits from these studio sessions are featured in the exhibit, including a few amusing self-portraits. Beyond the art skills, the UMKC graduate degree is in Costume Design AND Technology – teaching students the skills and techniques to construct the garment they have conceived.
Since graduating from UMKC in May 2013, Aaron has worked professionally in theatre full time, first in Kansas City and now in St. Paul, Minnesota. For the last 3 summers, he has travelled to Virginia to participate in the Castleton Opera Festival. Starting as a stitcher, he climbed the ranks to Assistant Costume Shop Manager, Shop Manager, and returned this year as Shop Manager and designed a main stage production. He has also designed/coordinated 5 operas for Opera on the James in Lynchburg, Virginia. It’s his goal to work full-time in opera, travelling around the country (and eventually around the world!) designing glorious period costumes.
B. H. Gehringer Gallery: Norm Melichar
Norm Melichar, a retired teacher from Millard Public Schools has turned his attention from counseling to creating art. His exhibit Ancient Elements – Masks, Sculpture, Collage and Mixed Media is the focal point in the B. H. Gehringer Gallery in February.
“I am an artist that seems to find beauty in the oddest of places. Dumpsters, highways, discarded materials. I love to give a second life to all of these delightful finds. You may find masks out of a hoe, or sprinkler, as well as using papier-mâché packing material. All of my art encompasses these found treasures,” Melchar said.
The show will highlight the ancient elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth with a variety of art presentations. There will be masks for each of the elements, along with other whimsical characters hitching a ride in each category. Each mask becomes a “character” with a biography to make you smile, laugh and think.
“It is difficult for me to present art without words, so I often will include poetry or short stories to lead you through the show. There will also be a set of totems, one for each element as well as two large pieces showing the unity of the elements. Sculpture, collages and mixed media will help to finish the tribute to these ancient markers of the universe,” he said.