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Feb. 14, 2001
OSWEGO -- Creating the look of desperation, sorrow and torture doesn't come easy in today's hip fashion world. Just ask Michaeleen Melita, costume designer for the March production of "The Grapes of Wrath" and costume shop supervisor at SUNY Oswego's theatre department.
Melita is responsible for overseeing the creation of all costumes and accessories for the college's production of "The Grapes of Wrath" as well as other theatre department productions. The show will open March 2 in Tyler Hall's Waterman Theatre at SUNY Oswego.
"The Grapes of Wrath", set during the 1930s Depression, will require over 60 costumes for the show's 24 actors and actresses.
"The costumes need to reflect the extreme poverty of the characters, the desperation and destitution of their lives," Melita says. "In the show there is a clear distinction between the oppressed and the oppressors, and we need to create costumes that go along with this theme."
Melita is looking to create a distressed look amidst the wardrobe, and to do that is not always easy. "We file, sandpaper, beat, bleach, dye and powder the clothes," she says. "We try and take these semi-new clothes and make them look ragged."
In addition, the costume shop will restyle suits and jackets, change necklines and collars to create the fashion of the 1930s. "We'll dress many of the characters is layers," she says. "Some of these people wore everything they owned just to keep warm."
A few costumes will be built to simulate aging bodies and pregnant women.
Melita calls upon the students of the Theatre 100/200 class to assist in the costume design and preparation.
"Where are you going with that, outside?" Melita calls to student Reid Beadel, who is carrying a pair of boots for lead character Tom Joad that need to look beat up. "The concrete and stones seem to scuff the boots much better," Beadel replies. "Good idea," Melita answers.
The wardrobe creation will take about six weeks, and in that time Melita will scour rummage sales and second-hand stores to find her costumes. She then will reconfigure the clothes to match the period. She oversees a group of 10 to 15 students in the costume shop working to prepare for the show.
This production of "The Grapes of Wrath" was adapted by Frank Galati from John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It was first produced by Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and received a Tony Award for best play in 1990. The show is directed by Oswego theatre Professor Thomas Rhett Kee and is under the musical direction of visiting professional Jason Eklund.
"The Grapes of Wrath" will open at 8 p.m. Friday, March 2, with a preview performance at 8 p.m. March 1. The show will continue at 8 p.m. March 3. School matinees will be held March 7 and 8 at 10 a.m. The show will continue at 8 p.m. March 9 and 10. "The Grapes of Wrath" will finish its run at Oswego with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 11.
For ticket information call the Tyler Hall box office at 312-2141 or e-mail
Persons with disabilities needing accommodations to attend "The Grapes of Wrath" should contact the Tyler Hall box office manager at 312-3097 in advance.
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CONTACT: Kelly Cullinan, 312-3097, Tyler Hall Box Office Manager

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