by Emily Garmon
I first met Catherine Thomas when I was interning for Resurgens Theatre Company during my senior year of college. Catherine had been the skilled costumer for Resurgens for the last few years. When I first asked her to be profiled on Beyond the Magnolias, Catherine told me she was incredibly flattered. On the day of our interview, she shared with me again her excitement to be considered a remarkable southern woman. Catherine viewed past profiles on Beyond the Magnolias, and she felt she was certainly “not in this class of people.” From the little I did know about Catherine, I already knew this was not true. By the end of our interview, I learned Catherine is a wife, mother, cancer survivor, costumer, actress, singer, fencer, baker, avid reader, and so much more. After getting to know more about Catherine’s diversified talents and interests, it became clear she is quite the Renaissance woman.
After seeing Catherine’s artistry at work first hand in Resurgens’ productions of The Alchemist, Volpone, and Sejanus, I was convinced she had been formally trained. When I asked her how long she had been costuming, Catherine responded she has been sewing since she was 10 years old, and the first to model her original costuming were her Barbie dolls. Catherine described the costumes and dresses of her early years as “pretty hideous.” When I asked her what attracted her to sewing and costuming, she simply said, “I have always been fascinated with what people wear and why.” Astonishingly, Catherine is completely self-taught through trial-and-error, as well as reading numerous books on the subject. Despite her authenticity and sumptuous abilities, Catherine feels her lack of formal training creates “gaps in what she can do.” Her supposed limitations are nonexistent to any onlookers of her work. However, Catherine does give herself some credit – when describing her thorough research process while she is costuming, she proudly proclaimed, “I know what I am doing historically.” It must be said that academia, language, history, and other cultures are no stranger to Catherine. She attended the University of South Carolina, where she studied Foreign Language and minored in Comparative Literature. Her talents, as well as her educational background, have served her well while working with Resurgens Theatre Company.
Resurgens Theatre Company produces the plays of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Dr. Brent Griffin, the Artistic Director of the company, employs numerous original practices in these productions. These original practices include, but are not limited to, judicious editing, thematic doubling, same-sex casting, minimalist staging, original pronunciation, and of course, Renaissance costuming. Nearly three years ago, Catherine attended a Resurgens production for the first time. After the performance, Catherine introduced herself to Dr. Griffin and, later in the year, he asked her to come on board as his talented, knowledgeable, and historically accurate costumer. However, Resurgens is known for staffing individuals with an array of abilities, and Catherine is no exception.
In the spring of 2015, Catherine was set to make her acting debut with Resurgens in John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed. However, due to a cancer diagnosis, Catherine was unable to perform in the production. As a testament to her strength and determination, Catherine miraculously continued to do the costuming for the production despite her battle with cancer. In the fall of 2016, once Catherine’s health had stabilized, she finally made her acting debut with Resurgens as Lady Would-Be in Ben Jonson’s Volpone. As someone who worked on this production and sat in the audience, I can attest that Catherine was well worth the wait. In this performance, Catherine perfectly embodied the vexatious and promiscuous nature of Lady Would-Be and garnered many laughs from the audience.
Currently, Catherine is working tirelessly on Resurgens’ special Shakespeare Association of America (SAA) remount of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. Although an enriching and fascinating conversation from beginning to end, I was most impressed with Catherine while we discussed this upcoming production. In the midst of her expanding on her technique and ideas for the show, she would suddenly interject with a mental note such as, “Oh! We need the bloody sheet for Malfi!” This aspect of our conversation revealed the amount of physical labor, thought, organization, and creativity that goes into Catherine’s costuming. She went on to excitedly analyze a scene from Malfi. In the scene she referenced, she illustrated how the colors will come together and connect with the plot and theme of the play. Not only does she tie her costuming into the plot, but she also adheres to things specific as fabric laws of the period. Furthermore, she demonstrated how she took the characters’ class into consideration, as she does not want to “dress a character above his or her station.” More specifically, she explained that a poor character would not be wearing a deep, rich color such as red because the dye would suggest that clothing was far too expensive for the individual. Finally, we spoke about the challenges thematic doubling presents for a costumer: “You want the audience to know there are three different characters and it’s not just the same guy changing clothes.” While this endless amount of thought and exertion may overwhelm some, Catherine relishes the challenge.
According to Catherine, one of the joys of working for Resurgens is the creative freedom the company offers. Catherine said, “It is important for me to implement my own design. I am still working within the design plan of the period but I am not restricted.” Unfortunately, I must refrain from spoiler alerts, so I cannot go into great detail concerning her costuming plans, but I am confident Resurgens will have the best dressed actors in Atlanta. If you would like to see Catherine’s work come to life on stage, the show dates are April 3, 4, 5, and 7 at 7:30 pm at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta.
Occasionally, Catherine steps out of the 16th and 17th centuries and exercises her costuming abilities in other areas. For instance, in addition to Medieval and Renaissance periods, Catherine is fascinated with the Civil War era. She has participated in reenactment societies and created a period gown for the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Moreover, she enjoys creating Star Wars and Game of Thrones-themed costumes. She even makes costumes for herself and for her family to attend Dragon Con together, and her work has been awarded at these various events. This is not surprising as Catherine’s resourcefulness and creativity knows no bounds – during our chat, she explained how she often channels her inner Scarlett O’Hara by making dresses from curtains and even shower curtains!
When Catherine is not costuming or engaged in one of her many other hobbies and talents, she is a dedicated wife and mother of three. Endearingly, the dedication and support from her family is clearly reciprocated. On the night of our interview, she and her husband operated like a well-oiled machine, navigating dinner, homework, and extracurricular activities as a team. Last fall, after Catherine’s performance in Volpone, I had the pleasure of meeting one of her daughters . She also shared sweet anecdotes of her college-aged son helping her shop for costuming-related books. Overall, the Thomas’ family dynamic is characterized by love, support, and shared interests.
Initially, Catherine worried she would not be in the same class as the other women featured in Beyond the Magnolias. While her humility is enchanting, it is obviously far from the truth. Catherine’s endless list of talents, education, natural ability, brilliance, and zest for life places her into the class list of the best. Catherine Thomas truly is the Renaissance woman.