Kent Streed has filled many roles during his more than two decades at the theatre
SARANAC LAKE — Kent Streed’s closet is unlike any other.
Most people might have a few pairs of shoes, workout gear, a set of formal clothes for weddings and funerals, and that flannel an ex gave you seven years ago that you just can’t seem to get rid of.
Streed has military uniforms, Victorian-era dresses with Bertha necklines, tricorne hats and bumblebee costumes. There are hundreds of pieces, and the ones that don’t fit on the racks are stuffed into boxes and large plastic bins. The wardrobe is organized, for the most part, but Streed said it could use some work.
“We occasionally get a few a students in here, organizing the clothes for community service,” he said. “A lot of the time they end up just trying on a bunch of the stuff.”
Streed has been a staple of the local theater scene since 1995. It’s hard to say what his job is at Pendragon Theatre — staff Jack-of-all-trades would probably be best. He likes to call himself a sexton, the person who looks after a church and does everything from ring the bell to dig graves. Streed directs, helps design sets, stitches clothing, checks emails, answers the phone and chases out the occasional squirrel. Before the start of shows, you’ll often find him handing out blankets to the audience.
“I refer to them, and I’m not trying to be derogatory here, as the Coumadin Crowd,” he said. “So if they’re on blood thinners or something like that and you keep the air conditioning at the industry standard, someone under the blower could be freezing. I hand out the blankets in the winter and in the summer just to make sure that people are comfortable.”
All in all, he has worked on more than 150 shows in the area.
Streed, who was born and raised in Iowa, said he came from rather basic beginnings. His father was a carpenter, and his mother was a stay-at-home parent who occasionally sold Avon makeup and fragrances in the 1960s. He said his interest in the stage was sparked by the Old Creamery Theatre, a playhouse his parents used to take him to in the summer. It was built in the remains of a creamery and seated fewer than 100 people. The sets were minimal, but Streed said that’s what helped the acting come alive.
“We saw ‘Death of a Salesman,’ and there was a kitchen table, a couple of chairs and off to the side maybe two twin beds,” Streed said. “We saw ‘Of Mice and Men’ there, which was basically with no scenery, maybe a bale of hay to sit on, a couple of stools.”
This style of close-quarters theater thrilled a young Streed.
“The acting was just so attractive, and there was such kind of a neat experience to be in that small of a theater that close to the actors,” he said. “Those experiences were just so incredible. It’s one of the reasons that ultimately drew me to Pendragon. It’s that kind of small, ‘Well, we’ll make it work; we’ll sweep the floor’ feel. I think there’s an innate capacity in the way people were more than willing to sit around a campfire and listen to a story and fall for it entirely. So I think doing theater that kind of relies on that impulse — the less-is-more sort of work.”
For an upcoming Pendragon show, Streed said he has to be a little more grandiose with the set design than he has before. The show is “Native Gardens,” which focuses on two neighbors vying for the best garden.
“It’s big. I’ve got to figure out a way to interpret this show that fits our space,” he said. “You know a lot of the theaters that have it done recently had huge budgets, so buying $2,000 worth of silk plants and flowers is nothing to them. That’s probably what we have to work with for both set and costume.”
Right now, Streed is working on a production of “The Hundred Dresses” based on the children’s book of the same name by author Eleanor Estes. It tells the story of a young Polish girl who just immigrated to the United States. The other kids make fun of her for wearing the same faded dress to school every day. That play also involves extra prop work because there will be 100 dresses on stage at some point.
Outside of Pendragon, Streed is often called upon by the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid school districts to take care of costuming for the student plays. He recently worked with Kim Weems and Tom Dodd for Lake Placid High School’s production of “Tuck Everlasting.”
“He can squeeze a dime until it melts, but also take a scrap of fabric and turn it into the most beautiful costume you’ve ever seen,” Weems said of Streed in a previous interview. Streed said he likes that approach — getting thrifty and creative.
“Years ago when I was working in Cohoes, I needed to make some hats for a production where these women were all singing about pastries. So I cut up a bra, used some coffee filters, and then I found a red pompom and glued that on top, and there I had my cupcake hat. You’ve got to look around, and see what you can do, and be inspired by that.”
The costume isn’t everything when it comes to acting. You actually need the talent and skill to pull off being another person. However, Streed believes a good wardrobe can make the actor more in tune with the character — make them step out of their own body and become someone else for a while.
“When an actor can look at themselves and say, ‘OK, I really look like I’m a part of this world,’ that means I’ve succeeded, and then they will succeed,” he said. “Years ago when I was in graduate school, working on ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona,’ I had to make a costume for a maid. She was a very calming figure. The actress playing her had just got done doing ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and playing Lady M in the Scottish play, so her focus was elsewhere. I brought her in for a fitting. All the costumes were based off playing cards. She gets into the two of diamonds and goes, ‘Now I know who I am in this world.'”