Patsy Thomas’ work in theatre wardrobe was an unexpected journey

Patsy Thomas, an Alberta Avenue resident, works tirelessly as the head of wardrobe at the Citadel Theatre and at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Edmonton-born Thomas is kind-hearted and hard working, so it’s no surprise she’s successful. But there was also some serendipity involved with a volunteer gig, along with the continued support of a friend.

“While I was waiting for my summer job to start after I graduated from high school, I was being a little lazy. My mum said, ‘Get off the couch. They are looking for volunteers over at the college [in Red Deer] for their theatre program for sewers. Get over there.’”

She listened to her mum. The first day, she met Rhonda, who was attending Red Deer College and working in theatre. “She was the head of wardrobe. I did four hours and within that four hours, she was with me for about an hour. She showed me what a rendering was. She told me a bit about how she was going to realize these renderings, the drawings, the designs for the show, and I thought, ‘This is freaking awesome!’”

Then Rhonda gave Thomas some hemming to do. “She gave me like, 10 or 12 pairs of pants to hem, [and] I really hated hemming. She then went out shopping, or whatever she had to do, and I stayed and finished the pants. Turned off the light and then didn’t show up again until the next summer,” Thomas recalls with a laugh.

The following summer, the college needed someone for their Summer Stock program. “So, I phoned and they said, ‘Bring stuff that you’ve sewn. Not your mother, but that you’ve sewn.’” She brought a couple of grad dresses she had made and a coat that she had tailored in high school. It was Rhonda, the woman from the summer before, who looked at the dresses and then hired her.

Thomas was hooked. “We had an amazing summer. We used to do all nighters. Crazy, crazy shows. We took our show to the Fringe that year. I think that was 1985,” she says with a tinge of nostalgia.

After that, she travelled to Europe. Rhonda was working at Red Deer College in 1986 when Thomas returned. Rhonda suggested she attend the Technical Theatre Production program. Not knowing what she wanted to do with her life, Thomas followed her advice.

“I applied. There were seven of us that first year. There were two of us the second year.” During her second year, Thomas focused primarily on costumes. “And that’s where it started.”

After graduating, she moved to England for a year. She worked in bars, cleaned, and worked as a cornetto girl at a theatre. She stayed in touch with Rhonda, who asked her to come to her convocation from Dalhousie University. Rhonda suggested Thomas attend the Costume Cutting Construction program at Dalhousie, and she did.

The summer before Thomas started school at Dalhousie, Rhonda was on her way to work at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. She helped Thomas get a summer job in their wardrobe department. “1989 was my first summer in Banff. I was there for three months. It was amazing.” She then attended Dalhousie University, but has returned to Banff every summer since then.

For several years, she freelanced in theatre, working for big name companies like Cirque du Soleil, the Charlottetown Festival, the National Theatre School, as well as a season at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. She eventually returned to Red Deer College.

“Rhonda, again, comes up. She started a Costume Cutting Construction program at Red Deer. I did that for two or three years with her. And then the head of wardrobe retired from Banff and the head of wardrobe moved on from the Citadel. I happened to move into both of those positions in 1998.”

That same year, she moved into the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood. “I was renting down in Riverdale for my first year here. I really liked Riverdale. I knew I wanted to be close to downtown,” Thomas says.  She had been looking around in Riverdale for a home, but when she told her realtor what she wanted, he suggested a house in Alberta Avenue. It caught her eye. “I walked in and I was like, ‘This is my home!’ The house welcomed me.” The house was close to everything that she enjoyed and had many connections to her childhood.

But there is more than just childhood connections that appeals to Thomas. “What is there not to like? I just love the sense of community. The lovely stores. You can go to Alberta Avenue and you can have anything from any place in the world that you want.”

Featured Image: Patsy Thomas, an Alberta Avenue resident, is head of wardrobe at the Citadel Theatre and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. | Stephen Strand