Tulsa Ballet costume assistant Maddie Rice sews two layers of cotton together to provide extra protection for medical professionals.

Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Ballet Company Costume Departments Jump Into Action, Sewing Masks for Coronavirus Aid

The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced ballet companies worldwide to cancel or postpone their seasons. But it's not just dancers and artistic staff that have found their work at a standstill. Costume departments, a vital component in bringing performances to life, have also hit pause. However, costume shops around the country, including Tulsa Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Miami City Ballet, have figured out a creative way to utilize their resources to give back to their communities during this challenging time. We touched base with Tulsa's team to find out what their experience has been like.


Sturdevant, Highfill and Rice stand in a cluttered costume shop. In front of them is a model of a head, wearing a blue cloth mask.

Tulsa Ballet's costume department (from left: Shawn Sturdevant, Tori Highfill and Maddie Rice) show off one of their newly made masks.

Bethany Kirby, Tulsa Ballet

The company was in final preparations to premiere Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Vendetta, A Mafia Story this month when the spread of COVID-19 forced Tulsa Ballet to temporarily shut down (the performances have been tentatively rescheduled for May 21-24, 2020). After learning that individuals had begun making masks to fulfill requests from the nearby Stillwater Medical Center, Shawn Sturdevant, costume director for Tulsa Ballet, quickly began working on his own prototype. In less than a week, Sturdevant and his colleagues, wardrobe supervisor Tori Highfill and costume assistant Maddie Rice, have been hard at work creating masks with materials from their department. The masks are not intended to be worn by medical professionals in direct contact with people with COVID-19, but by lower-risk staff and patients, to help free up N95 masks for those who need them most.

"Everyone in the community is trying to do their part," says Sturdevant. "We at Tulsa Ballet just want to give to a community that has given so much to us."

Once the Tulsa Ballet costume department receives fabric, their first step is washing it. Here, costume director Shawn Sturdevant goes through the second step: Cutting the fabric to size.

Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Sturdevant and his team followed online tutorials and solicited guidance from nurses to help construct the masks. The team's current goal is to produce 300 masks or more per week. The company's community has also started chipping in, with individuals donating breathable, one hundred percent cotton fabric. Expanding beyond Stillwater Medical Center, Tulsa Ballet is now donating the masks to several hospitals and organizations in the greater Tulsa area including Hillcrest Medical Center, Saint Francis Hospital, the Coweta Police Department, Wagner County Sheriff's Department, Grace Hospice and the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative.

"There is a sad and honestly, scary, undertone to the whole situation if you really stop to think about what you are doing in the moment," reflects Sturdevant. "Instead, I count myself as extremely lucky. I am able to come in every day to do what I love with a fantastic group of people, and make a small contribution to those around me."

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