Augustana costume shop supervisor Cindy Bakke has worn many hats throughout her life, all of which has been spent within 90 miles of her hometown of Mitchell, South Dakota. The most important hats, it would seem, are those of listener and friend.
After she graduated from the University of South Dakota with degrees in English and history and a minor in secondary education, Bakke worked at Citibank in dispute resolution.
One day, while attending a Women’s Day seminar, Bakke listened to a speaker on mediation.
“If it had been a cartoon, there would have been clouds that parted and a ray of light that came down and went, ‘This is what you’re meant to do,’” Bakke said.
So Bakke became a trained mediator, specializing in divorce and custody mediations. Bakke also mediated for the Department of Justice with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Department of Education with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the United States Postal Service — all while running her own mediation business and working part time with management information systems at a small, nonprofit law firm.
Bakke wasn’t involved in costuming until her oldest son was cast as a lead role in the Sioux Falls Community Playhouse’s last production of “The Boxcar Children.” When the director of the play suggested the actors wear jeans, Bakke objected.
“I said, ‘Well-off children in the 30s would not have been wearing jeans, and girls wouldn’t have even been wearing slacks, let alone jeans.’ And the director said, ‘Well, fine, then you costume the show.’ And I said, ‘Fine, I will,’” Bakke said.
Bakke has costumed for many productions including the University of Sioux Falls, South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, Washington Pavilion and Sioux Empire Community Theatre. Bakke also costumed at Brandon Valley High School for 18 years, ending her stint with last year’s production of “The Little Mermaid.”
In October 2012, Bakke joined the Augustana Theatre Department.
“I talked with my supervisor at the law firm and said that this wonderful thing that I loved to do has appeared,” Bakke said. “So for four years, I just flowed back and forth very naturally between the two places and loved it.”
The law firm moved back to Kansas in 2015, and Bakke stayed on as Augie’s costumer.
“I love it here. I love the people I work with; I love the students. This is just the perfect job,” Bakke said. “I rarely walk into this place empty-handed. If I am at the door and there’s a student there, they always, always — someone is there to help hold the door.”
Not only is Bakke thankful that someone always holds the door, but also for the help in the costume shop from theatre students. “The Thanksgiving Play” opened Thursday, and Bakke had a lengthy checklist to get through on Monday.
Bakke said that by 7:30 Monday night, her checklist was done.
Freshman Isabelle Thorson was one of the students who pitched in.
“My favorite moments with Cindy are when she gives us pure love, just because she wants to,” Thorson said. “She just emailed us the other day and was like, ‘I love you, and thank you so much.’”
Bakke said she has been fascinated by clothes her whole life.
“[Historical context] affects how we dress, why we wear what we wear and how what we wear reflects who we are,” Bakke said.
“That’s something that I love about being a costumer: knowing that and then sharing it. Talking all that through [with actors] and helping people understand that it’s not just a costume [they’re] putting on — it says something about the world that you’re representing,” Bakke said.
Personal style is on the back burner for Bakke. “I’m so busy thinking about everyone else’s style that it oftentimes feels like I don’t really have time to think about style.”
Bakke said that she far more enjoys watching how styles change. “And now I’m so much more attuned to it, so I see it happen. And it’s just fascinating to me how osmotic it is, how it happens and no one has to say.”
Junior Emilee Krykes said that Bakke’s style features boldly-colored or printed shirts with loose, flowy sleeves. “Things with interesting patterns or textures, and [she likes] to wear random things around [her] neck.”
Bakke said her mediation skills are applicable in many ways. This is evident in the way she cares for her students.
Senior Ashlyn Himley said that along with Bakke’s day-brightening sense of humor, Bakke is “absolutely the mom of the theatre.”
“I had a student from last year who was ripping a seam out again and said, ‘I’m such an idiot.’ And I said, ‘Okay, if ripping a seam out twice makes you an idiot, and I’ve ripped out ten thousand seams, what does that make me?’ Because no, ripping out a seam doesn’t make you anything other than someone who has to rip out a seam,” Bakke said.
Krykes said that Bakke wants to see students be their best selves.
“You wouldn’t let someone talk to someone you love that way. Why do you talk to yourself that way?” Bakke said. “And so that’s an ongoing conversation [in the costume shop] about how you think about yourself and what you’re saying to yourself.”
Himley said that when she needs “pure catharsis,” the costume shop is her go-to destination because [Bakke] is there and ready for hugs.
When Bakke isn’t cutting out fabric or ripping seams, she’s happy to offer a mom hug.
“I’m not taking the place of your mom,” Bakke said. “What I’m doing is channeling your mom. What you’re actually getting is a hug from your mom.”
If the costume shop serves as a safe place for people to have difficult conversations or to have breakdowns, that’s okay with Bakke, “as long as we’re still getting the to-do list stuff done, because the show is going to go on.”