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Going beyond design class

Ten student artists got a behind-the-scenes look at real-life theater after winning a contest sponsored by the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

The students, all members of the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, were among 34 entrants in TBPAC's "Ultimate Wedding Dress Contest" that coincided with the opening of the Broadway touring production of Mamma Mia.

The students saw a matinee of the show, took a backstage tour and met with the costume crew. They also had the thrill of seeing their renderings of the ultimate wedding dress displayed on the walls of the theater's Carol Morsani Hall, where they were featured throughout the show's six-day run.

The contest was part of TBPAC's Broadway Education Initiative, a partnership between the education and humanities staff and seven local school districts. The program's goal is to expose students to theater and to give them an up-close look at what goes on behind the scenes of professional productions, administrative director Jesse Miller said.

"We chose Mamma Mia for the Pinellas County Center for the Arts because the school has a really strong costume department," Miller said. "We thought it would be a great tie-in."

The hit musical, based on the songs of the pop group ABBA, unfolds on a tiny Greek island where a woman embarks on a quest to discover the identity of her father on the eve of her wedding. Time constraints prohibited the students' renderings from being turned into costumes for the show, but the experience was still worthwhile, said PCCA costume design instructor Trish Kelley.

"It showed them that what we're doing leads somewhere," Kelley said. "It gave them a realistic picture of where their work could lead."

The students were invited to participate in the contest in August. Contest rules required them to include fabric swatches and write essays justifying their sketches.

Three PCCA faculty members narrowed the entries to the 10 finalists, and the show's wardrobe designer chose a grand-prize winner and two runnersup.

Just before the curtain rose Sept. 11, TBPAC president Judith Lisi named 17-year-old Maya Flock the first-place winner. First runnerup was Dani Mazo and second runnerup was Shaylynn Cassidy.

Flock, a musical theater major, designed a chiffon confection with a turquoise shoulder drape, a 3-foot train and a floor-length veil attached to a golden crown.

"It reveals the most beautiful aspects of the female," she said. "It accentuates everything that should be accentuated and makes her look more beautiful than she ever has. That's how a woman should appear on her wedding day."

Flock said she would love the opportunity to turn her design into an actual dress, but she does not envision herself wearing it.

"It's not me," she said. "I was designing for the character."

Brian Schrader, a 17-year-old technical theater major and one of the finalists, based his design on dresses worn by women in the Ziegfeld Follies.

He sketched a long tunic with gold trim, a long train and a small headband that anchored a short veil.

"I wanted to do something that would make the bride feel like a goddess, like she was above everyone else," Schrader said.

Winnowing the 34 entries to 10 drawings was difficult, said Karen Bail, a musical theater and voice instructor who was one of the three judges.

"We put them on the floor around us and each of us picked our five favorites," Bail said. "We read the explanations and looked at the renderings and managed to get them narrowed down to 10 drawings."

The other contest finalists were Patrick McNally, Jessica Holmes, Rebecca Bryce, Marcus Freeman, Kalyn Pembridge and Jennifer Patton.

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