Behind the Scenes Spotlight: Randy Rowoldt, Crafts ArtisanWalking into Randy Rowoldt’s workshop at Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) is a bit like taking a step directly into the theatre’s imagination. One of the room’s walls is lined with shelves of fantastical hats—hats that look like vegetables, hats with long noses attached, and hats that look like Victorian novels. Another wall is adorned with a board neatly divided into squares, each of which contains a different fleshy, prosthetic nose. Rowoldt uses these noses to transform actors’ faces onstage and jokes that the crafts shop is CTC’s “only place where you can pick your nose.”
As CTC’s Crafts Artisan, Rowoldt creates the aspects of costumes that bring performances to new levels of authenticity and whimsicality—hats, belts, jewelry, shoes, socks, tails, fake facial features and limbs, and even human and animal heads. He brings concepts from costume designers into existence using a combination of creativity and logic. “I get asked to do the weird stuff,” he says with a smile.
Rowoldt was drawn to the theatre as a child and remembers being “enchanted” with the experience of attending his first play when he was in elementary school. He acted onstage in his first role at age ten, designed his first set in junior high, acted and directed in high school, and later acted in a touring production of Fiddler on the Roof. As a college student in the area, Rowoldt and his friends frequently attended performances at CTC, and Rowoldt says he knew even then that he wanted to work at CTC someday. He gained a variety of experiences in costuming and other behind-the-scenes aspects of theatre in his years after school, but he continued to most enjoy the “fantasy and magic” typically present in children’s theatre. When the chance to work at CTC presented itself 20 years ago, Rowoldt remembers that he “leapt at it,” and he has spent his time since then laboring to turn off-the-wall ideas into reality.
Throughout his years at CTC, Rowoldt has crafted creations that sound downright impossible. He once invented a top hat that appeared to contain the Mississippi River—its base was made of clear acrylic, and he filled its sealable top with light blue mouthwash to simulate the color of fresh river water. He also brought to life the clichéd expression of skepticism, “…then I’ll eat my hat!” by molding a cookie sheet into the shape of a hat and baking a genuine cookie that an actor could wear on his head. The original cookie hat, however, proved to be a bit too substantial and Rowoldt recalls that it would have taken the actor about 20 minutes to actually eat it onstage. He then fashioned a straw boater hat with a cutout on the brim that he filled with disguised wafer cookies. The actor was able to take a bite out of the cookies and express his disbelief by literally eating his hat during a live performance!
Recently, Rowoldt worked on hats and shoes for CTC’s latest performance of Pinocchio. The show, which is set in a workshop as imaginative as Rowoldt’s own, calls for the actors to wear a variety of hats, including some made of newspaper. To fashion these hats, Rowoldt folds newspaper according to origami patterns and laminates them to protect them from the wear and tear they will encounter during a show. Pinocchio’s hat, he reveals, is made of Star Tribune funny pages, while the others are folded from sections of The New York Times that he brought in from home. Rowoldt also transformed a pair of shoes for Pinocchio, rubbing a brand new pair of boots on asphalt and then painting them to make them appear distressed. “Everything’s not always what you think it is onstage,” he explains.
Before discussing his views on creativity and inspiration, Rowoldt stops to think for a moment. “You have this soup in your head and it depends on what falls out on any given day,” he reflects. He calls the opportunity to solve challenges creatively both the scariest and the best part of his job, and expounds that the theatre is a place where, “Everything becomes a world that you never knew existed before.” Rowoldt is a crucial part of the construction of these unique worlds, and he continues to contribute the wacky, the weird, and the unbelievable to CTC productions.