For this professor, it’s about making one for the team

Jenna Gerling

Fashion professor designs Cleveland Indians costumes

Suzy Campbell, associate professor of theatrical design, holds a new expensive human-hair wig in the women’s dressing room of the Music and Speech building. GAVIN JACKSON | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

She started out in fine and graphic arts in the ’60s. Then she sold motorcycles. She gave microabrasions while working for a dermatologist. She set pins in electronics for NASA in a factory.

Then she went into fashion, making Miss Universe pageant dresses and tutus for the all-male drag ballet, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. She designed for brides, strippers and circus animals.

She also rebuilt the costume of Cleveland Indians’ mascot, Slider.

“I can’t actually say I’ve settled down,” said Suzy Campbell, associate professor of costume design. “I tend to find challenges, even if there aren’t any around – that’s who I am, I guess.”

Campbell’s diverse occupational background has much to do with her values.

“I know institutions exist for a reason, but I also think thinking outside the box is probably the most important thing you can do with your life,” she said. “Just when you think you’re only going to go one way, something else happens.”

Campbell said she has always gotten jobs by referral, and the person who suggested her to the Indians as a costume designer for Slider is unknown.

The Cleveland Indians have employed Campbell ever since the man dressed as Slider tore a ligament in his knee from falling six feet off an outfield wall in 1995.

“The reason he fell is because the costume had been built in such a way that he couldn’t feel the ground, and he couldn’t really see,” she said. “Now, I do all of his costumes.”

Campbell said she has designed about 30 costumes for him within the last 11 years, including several bodies for Slider and the many outfits that go on them, ranging from a safari jacket to an Elvis costume.

Though Slider’s outerwear has changed over time, Campbell also made a significant alteration to the material under his fur, replacing fiberglass with closed-cell foam.

Campbell said she chose this material because it breathes well, weighs very little and has the ability to be flexible, making it more comfortable than the stiff, heavy fiberglass.

She also changed the construction of the garment, so the man inside the costume has a breathing area and a fan to keep him cool.

“(Slider’s head) was very claustrophobic before,” Campbell said. “And it’s adjustable, so it can change its angle – if his neck’s bothering him, he can tilt it back a little.”

Slider’s shoes were also due for a change because of safety issues.

“There was no structure in (the shoes) to allow him to feel the floor, or to wear a shoe inside it to make a tight fit so he wouldn’t trip,” Campbell said.

Campbell said knowing that she’s helped rebuild Slider doesn’t matter as much to her as the friendship she has created with the man inside the costume – the fact that he, his wife and his dog visit her.

Stephen Zapytowski, professor of design and technology and a colleague of Campbell’s, said she spends vast amounts of time with her students, especially outside the classroom.

“The growth (of skill) you will see in her students, even in a semester, among some of her students is incredible,” he said.

Campbell’s said it’s her philosophy that imaginations need nurturing.

“I don’t want them to ever feel criticized for being adventuresome – I don’t want them to feel that way.”

Contact performing arts reporter Jenna Gerling at [email protected].