Whether iconic white rabbit or grisly disaster victim, costume designer revels in creative joys, challenges

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By M.V. Moorhead

Sometimes it’s a talking white rabbit, sometimes it’s a disaster victim. When you’re a costume designer, you can just never be sure who you’ll be asked to dress next.

This sort of challenge is part of what drew Mallory Prucha to the field. The Resident Faculty in Costume Design and Costume Shop Supervisor at Mesa Community College started out as a traditional artist, but liked the inter-disciplinary quality of costuming.

“Originally, in undergrad, I had studied fine art but I found costume design to be a better application for my art,” says Prucha. “It involves engineering, math and a bit of science.”

Currently these hard sciences are being applied to one of the craziest of fantasies (though its author was a mathematician). Prucha is designing the costumes for Alice in Wonderland, MCC Theatre Department’s stage version of the Lewis Carroll classic, opening this weekend.

“It’s the 150th year since Lewis Carroll’s text was published,” Prucha notes.

Now a Tempe resident, the Omaha native did her undergrad at University of Nebraska at Omaha, then went on to get her MFA in Costume Design at the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

She taught at the University of Wisconsin Eau Clair and designed for productions ranging from the touring passion play The Thorn to Othello and Pericles for Nebraska Shakespeare.

During her time at UNL, Prucha says she met several students who had come there from MCC.

“I wondered what they were putting in the water out there,” she says. “They were the best trained, the most inquisitive.” So Prucha jumped at the opportunity to join MCC’s faculty, and has been in the Valley for three years now.

“I love it,” she says.

Prucha has taken to the community so much that she has put her theatrical skills to use in a different arena.

“One of the specialized programs we do is to partner with eight different emergency response units, including Mesa Fire,” she says. She and her students provide moulage—simulated injuries—video services and actors to play victims for trainings, including TPMs (“Total Patient Management” disaster drills).

“There are more traditional ways [to interact with the community],” Prucha admits, “like outreach. But I like to find those strange connections.”

Speaking of strange, back to Alice in Wonderland. What’s her approach to this beloved tale?

“There are about twenty puppets, and about ten actors that operate them,” says Prucha, though some of the characters, like the White Rabbit and Alice herself, are not puppets. “We’re doing it sort of steampunk style. It’s a challenge to create a sort of neutral costume that speaks to the steampunk aesthetic but allows the actors to be anything from a flamingo to a dodo.”

Does she have a favorite among them?

“Well, that’s hard,” she says, “But I just built the Dormouse and the March Hare puppets, and I think they’re pretty adorable.”

Alice in Wonderland runs Oct. 16 to Oct. 24 at Mesa Community College Theatre. Call 480-461-7172 or go to purplepass.com for details.

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