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‘It’s kind of like candy to me’: Professor assists wardrobe department for ‘The Lion King’

| Thursday, March 5, 2020

Melissa Bialko will be assisting the costume department of the Broadway production of “The Lion King,” which will run at South Bend’s Morris Performing Arts Center from March 4 to March 22.

Bialko, Saint Mary’s theatre professor and professional specialist in costume design, said she got the position working on the show through a stagehand union called International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE.

Genevieve Coleman | The Observer

The Morris Performing Arts Center in South Bend is hosting a traveling Broadway production of “The Lion King.” Saint Mary’s professor Melissa Bialko is among the crew working on wardrobe for the show.

“My first gig with our local stagehands union, Local 187, was in September 2005, so I’ve been working with this local for quite some time,’’ she said. “Being a member of the union, there is a call order for each position. I was called in ranking order to fulfill that position, which is a wardrobe member.’’

Bialko said she is humbled to take on the role for the show.

“I feel great pride in any work that I can get to do in theatre, and it’s kind of like candy to me to get to work on something renowned like ‘The Lion King’ as a wardrobe person,” she said.

Managing the costumes for “The Lion King” is a large undertaking, Bialko said, due to the show’s minimalistic set.

“It’s a huge wardrobe call,” she said. “There’s truly very little scenery, but there’s a lot of glorious lighting and a lot of costumes. So, there’s quite a lot of us who are needed to be wardrobe [members] as well as puppet workers.”

The wardrobe managers are divided into specific crews, each of which have certain jobs to perform during the shows.

“There’s actually a specific laundry crew, which is typical on every show,” Bialko said. “Then during the shows themselves, we help people with changing their clothes. It’s a lot more complicated and intense than what that sounds initially. There’s actually quite a lot of running around backstage.”

Bialko said she thoroughly enjoys being a part of theatre productions because of the fast-paced nature of the job.

“It’s a lot of quick problem solving on your feet,” she said. “It’s really enjoyable because you get to help the performers be ready to do their job.”

Originally, Bialko said she wanted to use her passion for design to become a civil engineer.

“I started out in civil engineering and environmental science, wanting to go into preservation of historical structures and eventually into law for environmental and preservation reasons,’’ she said. “I found out as an engineer, you spend a lot of time not physically interacting with the old stuff I love. With scenic design, you get to interact with the old stuff everyday — you get to research it, you get to replicate it, you get to tweak it in the design sense to make it tell part of the story of the play.”

Bialko said she has found a love for teaching students lessons that are applicable both inside and outside the classroom.

“The appeal to me is to get to work with students that closely every day and to not only teach them, ‘This is how you draft this kind of pattern,’ but also life skills,” she said.

Working in theatre enriches and complements the human experience in many ways, Bialko said.

“What I really love about theatre is how collaborative it is,” she said. “You are part of a team every single day. You are working toward a common goal every single day. … I think [the arts] serve a very important enrichment for [mental health] in our world, and the joy and pride of being a part of that is very, very special to me.”

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About Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve Coleman is a sophomore at Saint Mary's majoring in English Literature and Secondary Education with minors in Sociology and Theatre Performance. When she is not serving as an Associate News Editor, she enjoys petting dogs and watching television with subtitles.

Contact Genevieve