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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Hippodrome founder dresses the stage's finest

Marilyn Wall has dressed hundreds of actors who have performed on the Hippodrome State Theater's stage.

But one of her favorite stars to work with was an alien.

When her three sons, Marcos, Miguel and Carly, were growing up in Gainesville, she would go into their classrooms and have art class, create plays and get the kids in touch with their artistic sides. There, she noticed a little boy who was made fun of. So she wrote a play about him.

His classmates loved him after.

"He was a star for a day," she said.

She started as a costume designer at 22, but she couldn't stitch. She had never even stepped in a costume shop before she helped start the Hippodrome, now located at 25 S.E. 2nd Place in downtown Gainesville.

A year after graduating from UF with a degree in theater, Wall and five other friends came back to Gainesville to start a theater. Pooling together about $3,000 from a year of work in 1973, the group was able to rent an old 7-Eleven on the condition that the three men in the group cut their hair.

The six artists did everything for the shows: design the sets, get supplies, direct, act and create the costumes. Wall dabbled in all of it.

In 1979, the theater moved to the old Federal Building that had been used as a post office and courtroom. It has been a staple for Gainesville art since.

"I'm amazed sometimes when I walk in here, the impact it's had on the community," she said.

Out of the original six, only Wall and Mary Hausch, who were roommates in college, work at the Hippodrome.

In the beginning, Hausch worked on costume design with Wall, mainly because she could stitch, Hausch joked.

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"Since then, she's not only learned to stitch but she can do everything else you can imagine," she said.

Wall's costumes range from velvet gowns to a vest with a gray baby doll sticking out like an exposed womb.

"Sometimes it's not just about being pretty," she said. "It's about being right,"

That precision happens in her design room.

From the red dragon head hanging from the ceiling, a piece of her first costume, to handmade wings and old, worn fedoras, each corner is a piece from Wall's history.

The majority of her finished pieces, though, are in her costume room in the basement of the Hippodrome behind two castle-like doors sealed by a combination padlock.

Even with all the costumes she has created, she knows each piece is integral to the story. She carries a phrase with her through all of the shows and all of her costumes: "Set an actor free to tell their story."

She takes everything into detail, from switching different tags on clothes to making performers think they're a size smaller to bringing in eight pairs of shoes to make sure it fits the actor's foundation just right. She even tells the little girls in her favorite show, "A Christmas Carol," to spin in their dresses to make sure the fabric twirls just right. Plus, she said, the little girls love to do it.

"I love to sit down and talk to an actor," she said. "No matter how many times a show has been done or the parts have been done, everyone brings something unique to it."

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