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Bryan Simmons has designed cos­tumes for Hillsdale’s theatre department for more than 15 years. Elena Creed | Courtesy

Down in the depths of the Sage Center for the Arts, there’s a win­dowless room full of fabrics, clothes, and cheerful student workers. On any given day, Bryan Simmons will be pinning dresses on man­nequins or sewing buttons onto a coat, all while humming to whatever might be playing on his radio.

This is the costume shop, the place where all of the apparel for the theatre department’s pro­duc­tions are created. James Brandon, chairman and pro­fessor of theatre and dance, says that, though there are no windows, “there’s a pos­itive vibe there” because of Simmons. But most stu­dents probably don’t know Simmons, the man respon­sible for cre­ating the detailed and daz­zling cos­tumes for Hillsdale’s stage.

Bryan Simmons, costume designer and lec­turer in theatre, was described by senior theater major Brooke Benson as the “heart and soul” of the theatre department.

Simmons came to Hillsdale in 2002 after a year of free­lance cos­tuming work. His wife, Jill, actually attended Hillsdale as a student — and worked in the costume shop — before she grad­uated in 1985. Since coming to teach at Hillsdale, Simmons has men­tored many stu­dents and designed cos­tumes for every show per­formed in Markel Audi­torium.

His wife often comes into the shop to help later on in the costume-making process.

“Getting to watch them work together is fab­ulous,” Benson said. “She’s so quick. He’s got these mag­nif­icent, won­derful designs, and she has his designs ready.”

Bryan and Jill even worked together outside of the costume shop to create Benson’s wedding dress.

But Simmons also works well with the other theatre faculty and stu­dents.

Benson said she sees a good rela­tionship between Simmons and Lighting Designer Michael Beyer, as the two have worked closely for so many years. They have always done well col­lab­o­rating, she said.

“In general, that’s not normal; that’s not common to have that kind of rela­tionship and under­standing between designers,” she said. “It’s really won­derful to see, and Bryan really tries to foster that.”

His job, Simmons says, has both chal­lenges and rewards. As the only cos­tumer on campus, he wears many dif­ferent hats.

“One of the chal­lenges of being a one-man shop, basi­cally, is that I’m not just the costume designer,” he said. “I have the respon­si­bil­ities of designing the cos­tumes — coming up with the visual look — but then another com­ponent of my job is the shop man­aging, making sure the cos­tumes get built, pur­chased, or altered. I’ve got two pretty dis­tinct jobs that are linked together. But I could be just a teacher, I could be just a designer, I could be just the manager of the shop. That’s the chal­lenge of weaving all of that together and still hope­fully pass on the knowledge to others.”

Even though he is spread in mul­tiple direc­tions, Simmons says Hillsdale is for­tunate to have someone in each of the three areas of tech­nical theatre, as well as other pro­fes­sionals.

“Our department is pretty amazing in the fact that we have a lighting person, a scenic person, and a costume person,” he said. “We have a his­torian, we have directors, we have a dance instructor. It’s pretty amazing for a college our size to have that many trained people. We’re pretty darn lucky.”

Another chal­lenge Simmons faces is bal­ancing time and skill.

“We try to have a cohesive vision of where we’re headed, and we try to make it more than just throwing it on stage,” he said. “We try to make it well-thought out and united in whatever the show is sup­posed to be. You run into things like not enough time, not enough people who have the skills. One of my favorite things is teaching people who can’t sew and then showing them little steps that they can build on to do that. It’s some­thing that is so exciting, but when you only have so much time to get some­thing done, how do you balance teaching somebody versus sitting down and doing it?”

But for Simmons, the reward out­weighs the chal­lenges. And that reward in his mind is getting to teach stu­dents new things they can use in theater.

“The reward is when somebody comes in and you’re able to give them some new tools,” he said. “When they’re able to use them, they can make some­thing and see it on stage and say, ‘I was a part of that.’ I really like that. I wish that could happen more. That comes in with the teaching part I like so much.”

The dynamic between theatre pro­fessors and their stu­dents is one of a close men­torship. The theatre pro­fessors all insist that their stu­dents call them by their first names, including Simmons. For the recent pro­duction of “The Seagull,” Simmons was able to work with a theatre major more closely. Benson chose to do her senior project in makeup design, one of the things Simmons teaches.

“When you do a senior project, you have an advisor who gives you the outline of your project and mentors you as you go through, does check ups and things like that,” Benson said. “Because of the time crunch, makeup has been some­thing kind of put to the last minute. With ‘The Seagull,’ Bryan was really excited to have a com­pleted design. It enhances the costume design; it works in con­junction with it. Working with Bryan was really great because my job was to syn­thesize with every­thing he created.”

Benson is not the only one who enjoys working with Simmons. Her husband, junior Austin Benson, agrees that Simmons is an easy person to work with.

“His ped­agogy is very gentle. You never feel like you’ve made some sort of crucial error. He’s always willing to guide you,” he said.

Brandon said Simmons is a vital member of the theatre department.

“He has tremendous skill, and he’s great to work with. I’ve mostly worked with him as a director over the years,” Brandon said. “He’s extremely col­lab­o­rative; he’s easy to get along with; he’s very com­mu­nicative. He under­stands my ideas, and he expressed his own ideas very well, so I feel like Bryan and I can come to a rapport very quickly as to the direction a show is going to go.”

As a director, Brandon said Simmons is reliable and never misses a deadline for cos­tumes.

“I’m always con­fident in the process with Bryan,” he said. “He’s one of those designers where I might say some­thing three months before the show opens, and I know that it’s never been for­gotten. I’m not just throwing ideas out into the air; he listens and responds.”

Brandon said he enjoys going down to the basement of Sage to check in with Simmons and just spend some time with him.

“We enjoy talking about the show, but we also enjoy talking about the college, the country, and the arts,” Brandon said.

Simmons’ first expe­rience with the theatre was in helping build sets for his high school’s drama department. He even­tually got a degree in interior design and worked in a showroom for archi­tects and designers. It was there he dis­covered he liked working with fabric more than wood, metal, or other mate­rials typ­i­cally asso­ciated with scenic design. He went back to school for a degree in tech­nical theatre with an emphasis on costume design. Simmons came to Hillsdale because he wanted to work in a small com­munity, some­thing a larger school would not give him.

But regardless of what he is working on, Bryan Simmons always comes back to stu­dents and teaching.

“It’s so clear that Bryan wants what is best for the stu­dents and is willing to take the extra time to guide them and answer ques­tions,” Brandon said. “That comes through. The stu­dents that work closely with Bryan under­stand that he brings a lot to the table for them.”