LIONS, WITCHES, AND WARDROBES
You can find a little bit of everything in the mother-daughter costume shop.
Shelby (Hamrick) Barnett (WC ’11) remembers being surprised when she was cast for the role of the Wardrobe in Worthington Christian’s production of Beauty and the Beast her senior year.
“Everyone who auditions for Beauty and the Beast wants to play Belle,” Barnett recalled with a laugh. ‘When I got that role, I was like, ‘What?’ I didn’t know what to expect.
“I had never been in a comedic role before. I had always been cast in a serious role. Honestly, I would do that role again in a second because it was so much fun.”
Twelve years later, Barnett shares that role with her mother, Debbie Hamrick, and alumni parent Rhonda Maloney at Debbie’s Costume Shop. Unlike the Wardrobe, which throws around outfits until she finds the perfect one for Belle in the Disney musical, Barnett (Director of Operations), Hamrick (Founder), and Maloney (Wardrobe Manager) make sure costumes are in the perfect place for the next group of actors and actresses that come through the store.
For Barnett, working in the costume shop is not just a “dream job.” It’s a job making others’ dreams come true.
“There are so many different aspects to the theatre,” said Barnett, who runs the afterschool theatre program for Dublin City Schools, directs shows at Worthington Christian, and runs summer camps for young people interested in acting.
“I’ve always loved performing, but recently, I started to love the backstage portion, especially in youth theater.
“Youth theatre is really important to me because that is where I learned to love it. It’s less about developing someone into the next Broadway star. I feel like theatre develops many life skills from doing it.”
Hamrick, who learned to love theatre through her daughter’s experiences, feels the same way about the costume shop as her daughter feels about youth theatre.
“I feel like this is my ministry,” said Hamrick, who opened the store in 2011. “One of my mottos is it is not about the costumes but the relationships. People often tell me their life story as soon as they walk in. If they need to come in and talk about something besides costumes, that’s also my job,”
Hamrick started her shop almost by accident in 2011. Hamrick learned from former WC secretary Holly Varian that a local business that had provided entertainment for cruise boats and festivals was closing its doors and seeking someone to take all of its costumes.
When Worthington Christian couldn’t take the costumes, Hamrick bought up the lot, and thus, Debbie’s Costumes began.
Since then, the business has grown like dandelions in an open field. A quick tour of the facility reveals rows and rows of shirts, swords, creatures, and crowns. Some areas are designated for certain themed shows like Shreck, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid.
Other sections are dedicated to a particular style or genre of outfits – the Roaring Twenties, royalty, soldiers, sports teams, tuxedos, and trench coats. Turn a corner, and one runs into a row of bright Hawaiian shirts. Take a left, and one finds themselves in a collection of animal costumes.
Debbie Costume Shop serves a wide variety of clientele, but most of its business comes from high school theatre groups. In some cases, a costume director will provide the shop with their requirements for a certain show, and its six-person staff will pull out costumes and props to meet their needs. In other cases, directors will visit the store to find outfits to complete their vision of the show. Finally, the director will pull selected pieces to complete the ensemble.
October and March are the peak months when high schools are preparing for their fall and spring productions. (The shop was responsible for 42 shows in March alone this year.) A chart with a grid listing every production and show date stands high above the chaos to keep everything organized.
However, not all the shop’s business comes from high school. Often community theatre groups need help with outfits, or people throwing costume parties enlist their services. Hamrick even has an International Movie Data Base (IMDb) credit for designing the costumes for the 2019 movie, Cadia: The World Within, starring Corbin Bernsen.
Debbie Costume Shop also caters to “one-off” customers who need a single costume or prop for a presentation or performance.
“Occasionally, we’ll get kids who need something for a class presentation,” Hamrick said. “We had someone the other day needing a full-sized adult bee costume.
“My favorite phone call came from (shock rocker) Alice Cooper’s people. Apparently, he has a trademark cane that he forgot to bring for a show and needed another one. I had to look the person up on Google to make sure it wasn’t a joke.”
While business is booming now, Hamrick said she seriously pondered closing its doors when the pandemic struck.
“It was the middle of March (2021), and the world just shut down,” Hamrick said. “It was in the middle of my biggest season, where we make most of our money. All of the shows, all 35 of them, were canceled. Then everything was closed down for a year.
“I felt like if God is saying ‘you’re done,’ I am fine with it. If He opens or closes a door, I am fine with it. But He said, ‘No, I want to grow your business three times the amount you are doing.’”
What helped that increase to happen was Hamrick bringing her daughter into the business last summer when Barnett and her husband moved back to Columbus. Barnett graduated from Cedarville University with a communication degree with a minor plus in theatre. “I took so many theatre classes, I was considered an honorary theater major,” she said.
After college, Barnett spent six months working the 3 p.m.-3 a.m. shift preparing and repairing costumes as part of the Disney College Intern program.
The differing skill sets between Hamrick and Barnett mesh perfectly to keep the business flowing.
“I couldn’t do it if Shelby weren’t doing the organizing, doing all the invoices and communications,” Hamrick said. “I am the crazy one pulling all of the costumes together. Shelby keeps me sane.”
“No one who knows us is surprised we are working together. We have always been best friends,” Barnett added. “Every creative person ends someone on the other end organizing them. My job is to ensure everyone knows what they are doing and when they are supposed to do it.”
While she was not always a “theatre person,” Hamrick always loved making costumes. While Barnett was growing up, she was the one with the needle and thread, creating get-ups for Halloween or the neighborhood children’s plays.’
“I always had the best Halloween costumes growing up,” Barnett said as her mother smiled appreciatively. “Maybe you didn’t dream of doing this, but you probably should have. You are perfectly suited for what you are doing.”