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Pioneer Theatre Company’s resident costume designer, costume shop manager Carol Wells-Day to retire after 25 years

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SALT LAKE CITY — After 25 years as Pioneer Theatre Company’s resident costume designer and costume shop manager, Carol Wells-Day has plenty of options when choosing her favorite show she’s worked on.

While she estimates she’s designed for about 55 shows, her favorite is both always changing and always the same: “I really like the show I’m working on at the time,” she said.

The diversity of work is part of what’s made her time with PTC so enjoyable, she said.

“You don’t just do the same thing over and over,” she said. “You have a new show with new problems and new things to solve … and I loved the diversity and the skills of the people that worked here, so I thought it gave us a lot of possibilities.”

The latest set of challenges and possibilities, doing the costume design for “An Inspector Calls,” is Wells-Day’s last with PTC as she plans to retire at the end of the season.

“It’s an unusual period that you don’t do real often — it’s 1910; it’s before World War I,” Wells-Day said. “The fact that it’s a period you don’t do very often, it makes it very challenging. ...

“In the play, you see people with a lot of money in the upper class, and you also see the lower class,” she continued. “So it’s real interesting in the fact that you see both, but yet it’s not a huge, big show. … You can kind of spend time on each costume and do some detail work that maybe you wouldn’t do as much if you had more characters in the play.”

PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg said the organization has been “very, very lucky” to have Wells-Day.

“She’s an artist as a designer, but she’s also an artist as a costume shop manager,” she said. “She knows how to run that shop; she knows how to make all of the dollars work; she knows how to manage her staff and have them be happy in their jobs; and she knows how to make people look good in clothes, which for actors is paramount. … It’s a lot to keep tabs on, and she’s extraordinary.”

Along with being talented in her field, Azenberg said, Wells-Day is wonderful to work with.

“She’s kind and she’s generous and she is a collaborator,” Azenberg said. “She’s warm and friendly and a good person to talk to.”

Though Wells-Day has been in her current role with PTC for the past 25 years, her time with the theater company goes back further, to when it was Pioneer Memorial Theatre.

After attending Dixie College on an acting scholarship and then getting a degree in costume design from Brigham Young University, Wells-Day went to Pioneer Memorial Theatre to see if she could get a job.

When she heard she could be hired if she were a graduate student, she enrolled at the University of Utah.

“It just worked out that, while I was going to graduate school, I was actually the first student to design a show on the Pioneer Memorial stage as a student,” she said. Her first show was “South Pacific.”

There was an opening when Wells-Day graduated, and she was hired on as a cutter, designing and making patterns for costumes.

After she’d been with Pioneer for around seven years, she said, she designed her last show — “South Pacific” again — and moved back to St. George, where she had her own custom sewing business and took on various projects, including teaching classes as Dixie College and working for the Utah Shakespeare Festival in the summer.

After about a decade of working for USF, she said, there was an opening at Pioneer Theatre for the resident costume designer and shop supervisor, and she was offered the position.

“I had never been the boss, and I loved Pioneer Theatre,” Wells-Day said. “I thought, ‘If I don’t take it now, I won’t be offered it again.’ So I came back.”

She found plenty to love about working at PTC.

“I thought the quality of the work was really good,” she said. “I had a nice-sized crew that would work with me, and … I could bring craftspeople in that specialized in different areas. … It was a place that I was going to be able to do things that I couldn’t do other places.”

PTC resident scenic designer George Maxwell met Wells-Day when they were both freshman in the theater department at Dixie College and has worked with her on many projects over the past 25 years.

“We’ve developed a shorthand between us when we do shows together, and I know what colors she’s going to use, and I know how to support that — and vice versa; she knows how I work,” Maxwell said.

He said Wells-Day has always prepared for the future in her running of the costume shop.

“When she sees something that’s a great deal, she snaps it all up,” he said. “She’s good about keeping the place equipped and stocked … which isn’t the case most places.”

Additionally, he said, “She’s just very supportive of the other designers that come through here … and very supportive of talent.”

He recalled a time when someone in the theater saw a person enter the building who “they were sure did not belong here.”

“He was all covered with tattoos, and his ears were totally covered with earrings and all sorts of piercings,” Maxwell said, “So the person followed him down, and Carol goes, ‘Oh, this is my good friend.’ … It was someone that Carol had hired to work on costume crafts.”

Maxwell said it will be “very different” working without Wells-Day and that their final collaboration — last fall’s “Fiddler on the Roof” — was “one of our best projects together.”

Azenberg agreed that Wells-Day did excellent work on that production, as she has on many others.

“She just makes things not seem bland, even if they’re meant to be bland, and I mean that as the highest compliment — I just thought the ‘Fiddler’ clothes were stunning,” she said. “She has a range that not everybody can do.”

Looking back at her years with PTC, Wells-Day said meeting many different people has been a highlight of her work.

“It’s really fun to be sitting there and watching TV and going, ‘Oh! There’s an actor I know!’” she said.

While some actors have done only one production with PTC, Wells-Day said, others have returned over the years.

“It’s like, ‘Oh, here’s my friend again!’” she said. “It’s nice to see them again.”

After retiring, Wells-Day plans to further develop her skills as an applique quilter. While she may take on a freelance costume design project, she said, she’s looking forward to continuing her involvement in theater as a patron rather than a participant.

“When I go to the theater, I will go to be entertained and not to be critical and say, ‘What do we need to do to fix this?’ or anything,” she said. “I’d just go to hear the story.”

Email: rbrutsch@deseretnews.com