Painted sky blue and white, a spacious room on the second floor of the Pendragon Theatre, tucked up under a sloping ceiling, overflows with piles of multi-colored fabrics and scattered assortments of hats, shoes, feather boas, scarves, cloaks, dresses, pants and shirts. This place is to Kent Streed what a palette is to a painter. For, from this extraordinary collection of many-hued odds and ends, Kent, a skillful artist, designs and produces his elaborate creations. These fabrications take the form of period costumes mostly made for the Pendragon's performers, though sometimes created for other area theatrical productions as well. Kent's cheerful space, lit by two south-facing windows and four dropped ceiling lights, is equipped with a large 5-by7- foot cutting table, four sewing machines, multiple tissue paper patterns in boxes on the floor, on the counters and pinned to the walls, four mannequins, ironing boards, racks, counters and shelves. The floor, covered with brightly colored scraps of fabric, cast off by Kent as he continually moves from one task to another, resembles a sunny wildflower garden in full bloom. In this behind-the-scenes workshop, Kent puts in 12-hour days, using his knowledge and imagination to create costumes that lend credibility to the stage characters. Hired as Pendragon's fulltime designer, he, along with everyone except the volunteer ushers, receives a paycheck. It is a professional theatre, and putting on quality performances is costly. Kent is not sure people always understand this. To acquire his superb sense of design and skills to meet the fast moving needs of the theater world, does not come overnight. Kent got his first taste of theater when, at his high school in Mt.Vernon, Iowa, he presented a Mark Twain monologue to "riotous applause and laughter." He went on to earn a bachelor of arts degree at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and in 1985, a three-year graduate degree in design from Illinois State University. For the next several years, Kent moved from one job to another, working with different groups, paying off his student loans and gaining valuable experience. He has worked as theater designer at The Music Theatre in Potsdam, the Cohoes Music Hall in Cohoes, and three years at the Foothills Theater in Worcester, Mass. He also taught dramatics for three years at Bara College in Lake Forest, Ill., and a semester at Middlesex County Community College in Metuchen, N.J. Kent works quickly but meticulously, frequently improvising and making liberal use of spray starch, which helps the fabric "behave" and stay in one place. He believes that costumes have the important role of "inspiring actors to get into the world of character." If he is costuming for a contemporary play, rather than making clothes that are already available, he roams the thrift shops to find the right garments. When looking for fabric, he used to travel to Plattsburgh or Albany, but today, more and more, is ordering from the Internet. Working with costumes at Pendragon is only one of Kent's jobs. He also directs some of the plays, acts in others and runs the box office, where he deals with the public, manages ticket sales and works out seating arrangements. "I like the variety box office work (offers) from trying to find the right fabric and make something fit," Kent said. About good acting, Kent said it is a matter of "understanding other people's behavior and then translating it through yourself." Additionally, Kent teaches a course in "Plays in Production" at North Country Community College. When Kent first arrived in Saranac Lake one snowy, frigid winter's day 17 years ago, he asked himself, "What have I gotten myself into?" But he remembers how he soon discovered the "wonderful ham and cheese sandwiches" sold at Lakeview Deli, which he said helped compensate for the miseries of the bone-numbing cold. He made it through his first harsh winter and has been working at Pendragon ever since. "My association here is truly as a company member," he comments, rather than just as an employee. Some years ago, he bought a house near the theatre and feels invested in the community and ready to stay for the long term though, in a pensive moment, thinks it would be nice to live somewhere where "I can grow a decent tomato plant with ease. People invest so much effort in gardening here. Where I grew up, tomatoes would just re-seed themselves!" Kent is often seen about the village, walking, biking, riding with a friend or using public transportation. "Since I don't drive," he says, "I figure I've accumulated enough ecological chits for a lifetime." Author Caperton Tissot lives in Saranac Lake and can be contacted by e-mailing tissot@SnowyOwlPress.com.
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)