It’s Not All Sequins and Fun

Genetically, it made sense early on that Cole Spivia would choose a nexus of costume design and theater as her chosen form of self-expression and career path. Her mother is a painter and sculptor who always kept a trove of interesting old clothes, shoes and purses around the house. Her father arguably was singularly responsible for the establishment of the movie industry in Georgia and he was also impresario of very successful antiques malls in the state. What was less certain was where Spivia would hone her skills.

After more than two years of resistance, including unhappy freshman and sophomore seasons at another institution, Spivia finally followed a friend, senior theater major Rebecca Martell from Cumming, Georgia, to Brenau.

Fred Lloyd at costume shop on Gainesville campus
Spivia works under the practical guidance of “best professor” Fred Lloyd.

“I could not be happier,” said Spivia, a rising senior from Canton, Georgia, who majors in technical theater with an emphasis on costume design. “I love the history. I love the old buildings. I love the fact that I work [in a costume shop] in an old house.” She is extremely pleased with her new mentor, Prof. Fred Lloyd, whom she describes as the “best professor on the face of the earth. He cares immensely about everyone who works with him. He’s gracious and funny and he has so much knowledge to pass on.”  However, she is also pleased with the practical experience she gets as a student engaged in various productions of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, the partnership between Brenau and the University of North Georgia that takes a professional approach to theater education.

Hollie Rivers in the Glass Managerie
You saw Hollie Rivers on stage in the 2014 production of The Glass Menagerie. What you did not see was Cole Spivia’s “pit crew” back stage that made certain she was dressed properly for her part as the iconic Tennessee Williams character Laura Wingfield.

Spivia worked in different capacities on several productions before Lloyd appointed her wardrobe head for the GTA production of The Glass Menagerie last spring. The simple explanation is that she and her crew were responsible for making sure the actors had clean costumes that fit properly and that they could easily and quickly change costumes between entrances. It’s a job Spivia likened to running the pit crew at a stock car race – “30 seconds of intense activity followed by, ‘Oh, we have 15 minutes with nothing to do so let’s have a snack.’”

Thoughtful, articulate, introspective and open, Spivia is a student who sees higher education not only as a ticket to be punched, but also as a means to an end. That is why the practical knowledge Lloyd has to share from his work in movies, television and big-time theatrical productions is so important and why her GTA work has value. “If you want to get a job, you’ve got to be able to say that you can do this stuff,” she said. “You have to know how to do it or it’s not going to work. If you don’t understand what you are doing, it’s like falling off the Grand Canyon. It just goes down and down and down. There is so much to it. There’s the budget. There’s the whole idea in your head. There are so many people you have to please. There are so many things that you have to know to be a well-rounded artist. There’s a whole business to it. It is not just the sequins and fun that most people think it is. It is a real job. It’s really hard work.”

Spivia’s career idol is the designer and director Julie Taymor, the first woman to win a Tony Award as director of a musical and a creative artist “who pulls worlds out of her head.” However, the sweet spot that she wants to build a career around deals with historical-period productions and her abiding interest in historical fashion. She says she also could see herself as a curator of a historical collection of clothing and other artifacts. “That interests me very much,” Spivia says, “telling the story of everyone in every time.”

Cole Spivia

“I’ve always been a collector myself,” she adds. “Some people might call it hoarding.” It actually started before she was born when her mother began a collection of reticule for her that now has become “huge.” She has clothing from the early 1900s that belonged to her great-grandmother, a German immigrant, dresses made by her grandmother’s sisters, “anything that catches my eye from Goodwill – shoes, fans, hats. I have French bodices from the 1830s. I’m running out of space, but that is not going to stop me. It makes me happy and it makes me understand better what I do.”

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