Just a few months shy of her 90th birthday, Nancy Brassea continues to volunteer her time with Kansas Wesleyan University’s Theatre Arts program.
Her involvement began in 2019 with a seemingly simple request from her daughter-in-law, Karen Babcock Brassea, during the production of “Alice in Wonderland.”
“She needed someone to make the costume for the Queen of Hearts,” Nancy said. “I thought, ‘Well, that won’t be too hard.’”
There was a pattern, but any experienced seamstress knows sometimes adjustments are necessary.
“With ingenuity, I managed to piece it together and it was beautiful. I was very proud of myself,” Nancy said.
Most recently, she sewed the finale dresses for the trio, Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette.
“The three dresses in Little Shop (of Horrors) were not easy, but she did a gorgeous job,” said Karen Babcock Brassea, the show’s director and assistant professor of Theatre and Dance. “She wanted to make it out of muslin before sewing the final costumes. She wasn’t formally trained as a costume designer, but she’s doing things I’ve seen costume designers do — she’s following her instincts.”
Nancy’s daughter, Donna, lives in California and teaches theatre in high school.
“My daughter watched the live-stream the other night, and she said, ‘Mom, you did it! It was lovely,’ so I was pleased,” she said. “My daughter teaches school and does musicals with her students, so she has made costumes.”
Nancy said she has plenty of experience with a needle. Like many girls from her generation, her mother taught her to sew at a young age.
“My sister and I would make doll clothes when we were 8 or 10 years old,” Nancy said. “Mom let us use the sewing machine; she showed us how to use it and bought patterns for our dolls. Gradually, we got into making our own clothes. I just kept making my own clothes. When I got married, I made the kids clothes. Then when they had kids, I made the grandchildren’s clothes.”
In addition to clothes for daily use, Nancy also altered costumes for her late husband’s dance studio. She was an elementary school teacher, and her husband owned a dance studio for nearly 40 years.
“The costumes I was working with previously were more children’s recital costumes,” she said. “I used to make and alter costumes for the ballet company — it wasn’t these kinds of costumes.”
When she moved to Salina in 2019, after the death of her husband, she expanded into costumes for plays and musicals. Nancy also makes Raggedy Ann dolls — with hand-stitched hearts and faces — for Salina Shares.
Babcock Brassea said in just two short years, Nancy has become part of the KWU theatre family.
“We really value what she does. She tries to come to opening nights or final dress rehearsal,” Babcock Brassea said. “The students run up to her and give her hugs, so she feels very welcome in our Theatre Arts department.”