Fourth-year students Juliana Cooper (left) and Kajal Ragu work in the costume shop fall quarter. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Behind the Cellar Door

by | Oct 15, 2019 | Culture, On Campus

Located in the depths of Wright Hall is what has been dubbed the Enchanted Cellar, a costume room with over 50,000 pieces. Founded in 2004, the cellar contains both period pieces and modern ones, ranging from Renaissance dresses to Game of Thrones character costumes.

Every year, come Halloween, the Enchanted Cellar has opened its doors to UC Davis students and staff, providing costume rentals. This year, however, much of the cellar’s contents are for sale. The Oct. 18-19 sale includes a drawing and auction for part of the collection. Halloween-oriented pieces — such as Star Wars and Alice in Wonderland costumes — will be for sale, while regular stock will continue to be part of the collection and available for theatrical productions.

The costumes will be organized based on value and specialty pieces. The ornate Wizard of Oz Glinda costume will be sold in a silent auction. Costumes of lesser value can be purchased or won through a drawing.

“We’re doing a villain card game theme for the drawing; it’s the last hoorah!” explained Roxanne Femling ’83, director of the costume cellar. The sale of the Halloween costume stock is timed with Femling’s retirement after 20 years.

Roxanne Femling, pictured in a Professor McGonagall cloak from Harry Potter, is director of the Enchanted Cellar. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Costumes are second nature to Femling, who majored in dramatic arts at UC Davis. After graduation, Femling worked for various theater groups, including the Sacramento Ballet and the Old Globe Theater. Eventually, she returned to UC Davis. “In 1999, my professor was retiring and asked me to interview” Femling said. “I got the job and have been here for 20 years in this same department.” Femling is currently working on her master craftsmen certification with Embroiderers Guild of America.

Among the incredible number of costume pieces the cellar houses, Femling noted those that stand out to her. “Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz characters are so much fun.”

Femling explained that those costumes were built by the cellar. And that’s common.

“We built three of the Game of Thrones costumes,” she said. “We had extra fabric and it keeps us creative and doing things. It helps us use some of our stock that we haven’t used.”

The Enchanted Cellar clearance sale features a lineup of villain costumes, including the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Japhar from Aladdin, and the Evil Queen from Snow White. (Justin Han/UC Davis)

Student involvement has been a vital component of the cellar. Students would request costumes, like both the “old” and “new” Star Wars costumes, among others. “We made princess costumes, a couple of years ago,” said Femling. “Students were clamoring to be in the photo shoot. I had the girls do some research because some princesses were based on real women. Doing the research was great, they felt like they were in character.”

After the sale, Enchanted Cellar will continue to provide rentals for theater organizations in the area, as well as schools, such as Davis High School. “It’s a network,” said Femling. “For example, we built a 1940s football uniform, including the helmet and people were looking for it so we rented it to a theater in San Jose. We help each other out.”

The cellar has a large amount of regular stock, which is reused constantly for plays and performances. Costumes have been remade to fit people and updated with embellishments and jewelry. “That will be a constant,” said Femling. “We have been talking about our program and sustainability, and that keeps our department going because we have the resources. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.”

Retirement is bittersweet, but Femling said she is looking forward to a new chapter — taking over her family’s ranch. “I’m hoping to grow some mandarins and have some goats,” she said. “I’ll be doing a lot of embroidery. It’ll keep me busy.”