Character Builder: Mary Selvoski



Photo by John Hession

It started more than 30 years ago with a few ballet costumes - costumes that Mary Selvoski made for her daughters when they were taking lessons. In the years since then Mary's collection of costumes grew and grew - today there are more than 10,000 costumes of all sorts. They hang in Mary's Closet, the Manchester-based business that she and her late husband Joe ("he could sew with the best of them") created. They designed and costumed for professional, community, school and theatre groups all over New Hampshire and beyond. In February, at the NH Theatre Awards, Mary received the prestigious Francis Grover Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award for her theatre work. This month she begins the work of scaling back her business - but be assured this is no curtain call.

Do you remember playing dress-up as a child?
I never played dress-up but I did play with paper dolls and dressed them continually.

What is it about being in a costume that's so wonderful?
It turns a person into a magical character and takes you into another dimension.

How did you get started in the costume business?
I was sewing for a lot of the local ballet studios when my girls were dancing.

How many costumes do you have?
Right now I have over 10,000 garments. I would say about 3,000 are actual costumes.

What's your favorite part of the business?
Being able to put a completed costume on a person and the joy of seeing the results of something that I created.

The least favorite?
The business end. I tend to discount more than I should.

If you were to pick one costume for yourself, what would it be?
A fun costume - maybe Raggedy Ann.

Ever dream of Broadway?
No, I just love working backstage and creating.

What's it like to see a show that you did the costumes for?
It's such a warm and fuzzy feeling seeing the finished product onstage and the character happy with the creation.

What's your fondest memory in 30 years of costuming people?
I have wonderful memories of working at the Palace and Lakes Region. My fondest memories are the years costuming for George Piehl of Stage One Productions. We became one large family with the summer stock actors and bonded over the years. Their friendships are ongoing 25 years later.

You're closing the shop. What will happen to all of the costumes?
We are moving out of the warehouse and downsizing to about a third of what we have now. My daughter Mary Jo and I still plan on costuming in the future. We are looking for a smaller space to make this transition. The economy has affected all of us, especially in the entertainment field.

Your husband recently passed away...
Yes, it changed our lives a lot. He was very involved in everyday operations and could press and sew with the best of them. My family is very close and very supportive so they take a part in all that we achieve.

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