Creating Lively, Colorful Costumes for "Bat Boy: The Musical"

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Hop off the elevator in the basement of The Fine Arts Center and find a classroom that is all abuzz, quite literally. The buzz of a sewing machine. Racks of colorful costumes line the hallway. Costume shop supervisor Alexandra, or Alex (Bell) Holzem ’20 had her work cut out with the costume patterns before her, leading up to the March production of Bat Boy: The Musical.

Alexandra Holzem Headshot
Alexandra (Alex) Holzem ’20

"Bat Boy can be described as a parody of Edward Scissorhands with lively rock music and ballads, and a soft 1950s flavor, Holzem explained. “There are some fun dresses, high-waisted pants, and tucked-in shirts.”

“It was a super fun show,” Holzem said. She wanted to work on the show because Bat Boy was a favorite of the late Jeff Stolz, resident costume designer and theatre professor at Viterbo from 1994-2019. Stolz passed away during Holzem’s final year in school. The executive artistic director for Viterbo’s Conservatory for the Performing Arts, Rick Walters, approached Holzem, asking her to make the 2024 production of Bat Boy come to life. She accepted that challenge wholeheartedly.

She explained that Bat Boy was not a large show, but that each cast member had several costume changes. “Most of the cast of 14 had two to three different looks. That includes a change in dress or pants, shirt, and shoes.”

She described how she would alter a dress pattern for an actor, who could go from wearing a 1950s church-appropriate dress to something cutesy in its day. “After the pattern was cut, I added a waistband that could be split so the actor could change her look without really changing her clothes.”

Bat Boy Church
Jake Aune as Bat Boy (Left) and Vera Shipley as Rev. Hightower (Right) in Bat Boy: The Musical

On a tour of Viterbo’s costume shop, Holzem shared how the space is extensive for a university, in terms of the two workrooms and ample storage. Eight sewing machines, washing machines, and dryers also make it a hands-on experience for theatre students. Students taking courses in costuming, makeup, a practicum course, and esthetics utilize the costume shop for their labs, with lectures held in classrooms throughout The Fine Arts Center.

Holzem returned to Viterbo full-time three years ago, after spending a year in Minneapolis. In her off-contract time, she is the associate costume director for the Des Moines Metro Opera. They will perform four shows in repertory this season.

Bat Boy finale
Reagan Kettner as Shelley (right) and Jake Aune as Bat Boy (left)

At Viterbo, the 2021 production of The Pajama Game was the largest show Holzem and the costume shop prepared for. That performance was set in the 1940s, had a cast of 25, and each cast member had four looks. “It was actual vintage clothing pieces that were local finds,” Holzem said. “So it was delicate clothing that had to be reinforced so it was strong enough to withstand jumps and dance moves.”

When she was a college theatre student, Holzem and her team worked on the large 2018 production of Cats: The Musical, where they hand-painted all of the leotards. That experience, she shared, really solidified that costumes is what she wanted to do for her career.

Jake Aune as Bat Boy

“My parents met doing theatre together in high school,” she explained. “I didn’t want to perform, but I knew that enjoyed being part of the performance. I had a work study in the costume shop and enjoyed it. My grandmother sewed, so I had watched her and learned also.”

Holzem is from Trophy Club, Texas, a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth. She learned about Viterbo when her high school, along with more than 100 other schools, attended the North Texas Drama Auditions at a local college. Several Viterbo professors traveled to the auditions, including Chad Kolbe.

“Everything he said was what I was looking for in a university,” Holzem said. Fast-forward to 2020, and she earned her BA in Theatre with a focus on costuming and a minor in arts administration.

Holzem manages 13 work-study students and co-teaches the practicum course with her colleague Jen Brown. 

Erin Jerozal, associate professor of theatre and music theatre and department chair said, “Alex’s leadership skills were evident when she was a student and we were so thankful that she was available and interested. She is such a gift to our program.”