All the PEM’s a stage


Boston University costume production MFA student Carol Schaberg having fun at the try-on rack in Future Beauty.

As a recent addition to the staff at PEM (I started with the Marketing Department as Executive Assistant in October), I feel lucky to be joining the team at such an exciting and busy time. In the past two months, I’ve been thrown head first into the museum industry, and I’ve been learning something interesting every day. I may be new to the museum world, but there is certainly something very familiar about the culture and passion that fuels the amazing staff at PEM.

My background is working in non-profit theatre and opera. With a BFA in Stage Management from Boston University’s School of Theatre (where I was also on staff before transitioning to PEM), I’ve been behind the scenes of a number of theatre and opera companies in the Boston area. I’ve come to find that the similarities between working in theatre and working in a museum like PEM are plentiful! The complex and often time-crunched logistics of getting exhibitions installed and up and running closely mirrors the load in and tech rehearsal process in theatre.

Opening a gallery for the first time to welcome in press for a preview of a new exhibition brings up much the same emotions as opening the curtain to share a dress rehearsal with theatre reviewers (although museum galleries tend to be much quieter). Most importantly, though, is how the people behind the scenes at PEM embody all of my favorite aspects of the theatre and opera companies I enjoy working with most –- a love of collaboration and sharing ideas and a passion for telling stories through art.

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LEFT: The lighting designer, technical director, and assistant scenic designer work to install the set and lights for Boston Opera Collaborative’s Dead Man Walking at Somerville Theatre (photo by Caryn Boehm). RIGHT: The PEM crew installs Future Beauty (photo by Eric Wolin).

Recently, I had the joy of bringing my two worlds together when I invited a few friends to PEM to see an exhibit I knew would wow them: Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion. Graduate students at BU in Costume Design and Production, Chelsea Kerl, Leonard Choo, and Carol Schaberg walked into the Dodge Gallery with wide eyes, immediately struck by the whirling Koji Tatsuno piece that opens the show, which Chelsea referred to as a “magical beige swirl of wonder.”

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Having recently designed a show involving traditional kimonos, Chelsea was drawn to pieces that deconstructed the traditional forms.

As artists who know fabric, all three were surprised by the amount of synthetics and other nontraditional fabrics used by the designers in unexpectedly successful ways, eliciting the following comments:

“Plastics and millinery materials and paper have never looked so appealing.”

“I should make more costumes out of plastic.”

“How does that even hold its shape like that? I’d love to know my adviser’s reaction to that if I sketched it as a design.”

Carol Schaberg, Chelsea Kerl, and Leonard Choo discuss the thin, sheer fabric used in a garment by (designer??).

Carol Schaberg, Chelsea Kerl and Leonard Choo discuss the thin organdy fabric used in a Taro Horiuchi garment.

They all appreciated the gallery’s layout, which allows for 360 degree views of most of the garments. The three of them were contorting themselves into shapes more bizarre than even the “Lumps and Bumps” dresses in their attempts to get close and figure out the stitches and construction techniques.

“From a design perspective, there were styles, techniques, and ideas showcased in the exhibit that I could never even dreamed could be realized.  There was so much creativity in one room, my designer brain almost exploded with inspiration!” – Chelsea Kerl

After wishing they could get closer to the garments, the try-on rack was a refreshing chance to get their hands on some fabric, and they oohed and aahed at the designer names on the labels (“Take a picture, I wish I could take this home!”) and giggled through attempts to follow the instructions for draping the flowing red Miyake stole.


Leonard shows off a jacket by Yohji Yamamoto


Trying to figure out the versatile Miyake stole.

"This is from Pattern Magic! I'm using that book in my graduate thesis!"

“This is from Pattern Magic! I’m using that book in my graduate thesis!”

Hopefully, I’ll be seeing more of my theatre friends (including the instructors at BU!) coming through the museum doors soon, but I’m most excited to see and hear how the inspiration and ideas from experiencing Future Beauty  make their way back to the stage through the work of Chelsea, Leonard and Carol.

One Comment

  1. Jennifer Pires says:

    This was a well written blog that I enjoyed very much. I normally would not be interested in an exhibit on fashion but your article peaks my interest. Good job.

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