Theatre professor, student find creative inspiration in each other

A mutual love of theatre has brought together a collaborative team in costuming. Visiting Professor of Theatre Susan McDaniel Hill and Heidi DeCaluwe ’20 of Jackson, Wisconsin, now work together in the basement costume shop every Tuesday. They are collaborating on costumes for the play “Paragon Springs,” which opens Nov. 28.

DeCaluwe initially came to Ripon to study art, but she now has a major in theatre and minors in studio art and music. She acts onstage as well as works behind the scenes as a designer and seamstress in the costume shop, and affectionately has been dubbed “Mini Susan” by many in the department.

“My freshman year, sometime during “Measure for Measure,” everyone noticed we had the same mannerisms, did the same things, even looked alike,” DeCaluwe says. “We think similarly. We work really well together and — at the time — I was like a tiny little assistant.”

She appreciates the accountability of working with Hill. “At home, I would start a project and then not do it. Working down here, I have something to work toward and a date to have costumes by,” she explains. “Having someone there to help whenever I need it is great.”

Hill says DeCaluwe is “somebody I can really trust who knows what she’s doing. It’s special to have someone like Heidi working here. She can step in and help, and she can take responsibility of making something difficult. I know she can do things no one else can.”

The likeness between the two women is not lost on other members of the costume crew. At work calls, DeCaluwe and Hill are interchangeably asked for advice, assistance and opinions.

Hill began volunteering as head costumer after her husband, Professor of Theatre Ken Hill, began teaching at Ripon. Gradually, she was hired to costume certain shows, and she describes her current position as something that occurred “organically.” She loves the camaraderie of the costume shop and works to create an accepting, amicable atmosphere for all to enjoy. The shop is filled with music, chocolate, and laughter as students from all disciplines work together. There even is a little sewing nook in the corner, complete with a fake fireplace and cozy armchairs.

Hill says she is delighted she is to teach people, and that two students from Ripon have gone on to receive master of fine arts degrees in costuming. One of them had learned to sew in the basement costume shop.

“I just love when someone like Heidi is here,” Hill says. “It makes your life complete because you know someone cares like you do. I’m always reminded when school starts again every fall, this is why I’m here. It’s just so special.”

When Hill and DeCaluwe interact, they consult one another on costume designs, measure actors together, and, above all else, know each other on a level beyond that of a basic student-professor relationship.

“She’s my work mom,” DeCaluwe says. “When my mom isn’t here, I can have my second mom, and when I’m having a bad day, Susan often makes it better.”

When she started at Ripon, DeCaluwe says she didn’t think acting and costuming at the same time was possible, but she is delighted to find out she can do both. “(Costuming) is always something I’ve loved, and I figured I could do both at once,” she says. “I have ever since.”

Dakota Marlega ’21
Waupaca, Wisconsin

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Susan McDaniel Hill and Heidi DeCaluwe '20


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