Nelson designer Kyla Hurst wandered into the costume dungeon of the Capitol Theatre a few years ago, while the theatre was preparing for an ambitious production of the musical Chicago. Seeing the fun and bustle, she asked if maybe she could help out.
“It was this total fluke,” Hurst told the Star, in describing how she came to inhabit her current role as one of the community’s most prominent costume designers. Besides working for the Capitol, she’s also teamed up with the Amy Ferguson Institute, Black Productions and Nelson Youth Theatre.
“I’ve always wanted to work in the theatre since I was in elementary school,” said Hurst, who attended Mount Sentinel and Brent Kennedy. “But I’m not a very good actor so I put that aside. I never even thought to try backstage stuff.”
Then her kids started getting involved in Nelson Youth Theatre, and through befriending local thespians Jeff and Lisel Forst and getting immersed in a creative environment Hurst found her passion reignited. Though it’s a job that sometimes gets overlooked, it consumes her life.
Most recently Hurst designed the World War II-era costumes for Liberation Days shortly after finishing work with Nelson’s opera Jorinda. One project had her struggling to create authentic soldier costumes while the other involved creating majestic avian beings.
“For Liberation Days I really wanted the audience to get the sense these people were starving, and have been wearing the same clothes for years. It was a struggle to make it look like they don’t fit because they’re starving, not because they’re badly costumed.”
Conundrums like that keep her in the theatre’s bowels, measuring actors from head to toe, sorting racks of dresses and keeping track of her idiosyncratic treasure trove of props and accessories.
“I’m down here three days a week, open to the public, but really it’s more like four or five. Then there’s the sewing at home, and the shopping, and yeah, it’s always in my head.”
That’s partly because her kids — Zoe, Tucker and Sara — are picking up on their mother’s enthusiasm and contributing to the theatre scene themselves. For instance, Tucker was cast in the lead in the recent world premiere of Eric Wilson’s Murder on the Canadian.
“Lately I’ve been watching rock videos from the ‘80s and looking at pictures from ‘80s movies online to get ready for Rock of Ages, going through the closets looking for things that jump out,” Hurst says. “I did a lot of shopping for glittery, sparkly things.”
To conjure Stacee Jaxx, the aging rocker at the centre of the show, she found a wig that transforms actor Ty Wright’s short hair into a white-blonde mane. The outfit is completed with a cowboy hat, skin-tight pink sleeveless shirt and belt buckle that features a familiar four-letter word.
Hurst shops almost exclusively at Positive Apparel in Nelson: “I’ve had some really good hauls there.”
She cherishes her time backstage with her group of close confidantes — Olivia Bogaard, Terry Brennan, Jane Merks and Laurie Jarvis, to name a few, and she said she routinely learns from the different directors and producers she collaborates with.
So far that list includes Pat Henman, Geoff Burns, Sydney Black, and Lisel Forst.
“The whole backstage is this big family,” she said. “It’s so fun.”