Making masks is not the usual task for opera director Martha Collins, but she has been at work doing just that--along with theater costumers and seamstresses.

Almost since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people have been making masks to protect themselves and others against transmission. Locally, among the cadre of mask makers are professionals—costumers, seamstresses, etc.—working for and with arts organizations who have turned their skills from creating attire for performers onstage to masks for their fellow community members.

The costume shop at Asolo Repertory Theatre, for example, put away the 1980s basketball jerseys and 1915-era dresses and suits they had been preparing for productions of The Great Leap and Knoxville after the season was cut short and began putting together masks at home using the company’s vast collection of extra costume fabrics and scraps, generating so far about 750 masks. From cutting to completion, each mask takes about 25 to 30 minutes to make; 10 costumers are producing the masks for distribution to Senior Friendship Center, Safe Children Coalition, Meals on Wheels of Sarasota, Visible Men’s Academy, Girls Inc. of Sarasota and ALSO Youth, mostly for their food delivery programs and volunteers.

Sarasota Opera’s costume shop has been busy turning down time into helpful hours, with resident costume designer Howard Tsvi Kaplan sewing masks for his nephew and fellow soldiers serving in the military. He’s also provided equipment and materials for several costume shop employees who’ve been creating masks for friends, family and the community. Even stage director Martha Collins (who directed Romeo & Juliet in the 2020 opera season) has gotten into the act, producing masks for a local senior facility. Costume shop draper Elizabeth Roskos, stranded under lockdown orders in Delaware, has been assisting her Aunt Hilda in shepherding volunteers producing masks for the health care community; Roskos has been volunteering between 15-30 hours a week making patterns, sourcing materials and sewing masks. “I’m benefiting from this as well,” she says, “having a job, being needed, filling my day and helping out.”

Noella Torres and Jodie Urias ("Mask Moms") are helping to produce more than 3,000 masks for distribution locally.

Jodie Urias and her friends Noella Torres and Alida Wallenda, usually found working in the circus community or at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, have also found fulfillment in getting masks out to those who need them. “I had a cabinet filled with fabrics,” Urias says, so she reached out to health care professionals to learn how to construct acceptable masks, quickly getting out a first batch of 175 to Sarasota Memorial Hospital. She thought the “Mask Moms,” as they refer to themselves, would soon run out of fabric, but one after another, as word spread, friends began contributing money so that more masks could be made. Now, as they meet requests from nursing homes and other facilities in need, Urias keeps discovering that every time they’re about to run out of thread or elastic, more money comes in, making it possible to distribute more than 3,000 masks thus far.

“I even give them to people at the supermarket, if I see they don’t have any,” Urias says. “My daughter and I distributed them to the 110 homes in our neighborhood, within plastic covering, along with a list of food banks. I’ve handed them out at fast wood windows and my CVS pharmacy. We’re still sewing. Everyone can make a difference.”

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