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WWOB costume designer volunteers time, creativity

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Submitted Photo With so many fabric remnants and sewing supplies, Jan Smith, lead costume designer for Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company, has began sewing masks for friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Jan Smith is the lead costume designer for Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company (WWOB) in Roswell.

However, anyone who lives in the community knows she wears many hats when it comes to helping neighbors by volunteering for many organizations.

Born in Berkeley, California, and raised in Castro Valley, Jan went to work for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) after college. She began at the entry-level position of general construction mail room and worked her way up to other positions at the company, but she was most excited when computers first arrived.

“I was eager to learn the software,” Jan said. “I ended up teaching software applications to the field forces at PG&E, went on to work in project management and retired as a network specialist after 35 years of service.”

Since her husband, Marvin, had already retired from PG&E, and it was expensive to live in the Bay Area, they made a decision.

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“In February of 2006, we followed our friends Karen and Jim Bloodhart to Roswell,” Jan said.

That is when Jan began to don the many hats she wears so well for fellow Roswellites. Being a Life Member of the Girl Scouts — she started as a Brownie in the second grade — Jan helped the scouts by leading backpacking trips into the Sierra Nevada Mountains during her high school and college days.

“When I moved to Roswell, I joined a Girl Scout troop and became a leader,” Jan said. “It was then I met Brianna Bitner and remained a leader with the scouts until 2015.”

Another path she walked down in Roswell was joining the Home Garden Club.

“The growing conditions are very different here in the high desert compared to the San Francisco Bay Area,” she said. “I have held positions at the local, district, state and regional levels in New Mexico garden clubs and I am personally a master gardener. The gardens at home have undergone massive renovations since we moved here — from grass and shrubs to xeriscape landscapes. During the stay-at-home mandate, I like that many others are having plant withdrawals.”

Also involved in the MainStreet Roswell organization, Jan volunteers her time at the UFO Festival each year, which draws in people from various locations worldwide.

“I usually work the information tent,” Jan said. “I have met people from all over the world who come to the festival. And along with several other volunteers, I help with setup and teardown of the event. It is a long weekend but so much fun!”

In 2015, an “old friend” — whom she first met upon moving to Roswell — Brianna Bitner, gave her a call. She contacted Jan to ask if she would “help” sew some costumes for a small musical production Brianna was involved in. That was the moment when the Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company entered Jan’s life.

WWOB is a nonprofit company founded by a group of people with a true passion for theater and a dedicated belief in its importance to the community. Their mission is aimed at entertaining, educating and enriching the area by providing professional-level theatrical experiences for both performers and audiences.

Jan first came on board for a production of “Les Misérables,” which was WWOB’s first musical ever.

“Oddly, this ‘little’ production required costumes for over 65 actors,” Jan said. “And the process for creating accurate wardrobes for the stage is an incredibly intricate one. Making costumes involves getting the measurements for each actor, researching the costume designs from the Broadway production, researching historic clothing, working with Artistic Director Summer Souza on the ‘vision’ for each actor, procuring fabric and patterns, cutting out and sewing the costumes — and doing it all within the time allocated. Finally, after the show — and sometimes during production — washing all the costumes, of course, also has to be done. I have been the costume designer and wardrobe master for WWOB for over 15 shows now.”

Costumes range from the “rough and tumble clothes” of “Les Misérables,” to 1920s dance costumes for “Singin’ in the Rain,” to the spandex jumpsuits worn in “Mamma Mia!” WWOB’s next show will be “Matilda” and is tentatively scheduled for the end of June, and the fall show will be “Elf,” currently scheduled for November.

Staying home does not stop Jan’s creativity or her constant desire to help the community.

“Making all these costumes has lent itself to a large supply of fabric remnants — from fur, to satin, to felt and everyday cotton,” Jan said. “I have bins of material and sewing supplies. Since the costumes are complete for ‘Matilda’ (the original show dates were the end of April), I find I have time on my hands. Since commercial facial masks are in short supply and should be reserved for those in the medical fields, I spent a day researching facial mask designs and found a mask created by a nurse in the state of Washington.”

Jan put her skills and materials to work for the safety of others.

“With no costs for materials, I have been making facial masks for friends during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Jan said. “It is imperative that anyone who is in contact with others wear a facial mask.”

Although boredom, anxiety and even loneliness can come from staying at home, Jan explains why it’s for the best.

“You must keep yourself and others healthy,” Jan said. “Stay home, keep up on your classwork, work from home, and even learn some new skills. Personally, when the pandemic has subsided, I know I will still be sewing costumes for WWOB and working in my yard.”