A Theatrical Calling

Gifts to the Dartmouth College Fund help make great things happen for our students. Here is one of their stories.
Hannah Collman in fashion classroom

Hannah Collman ’15, from Sandy, Oregon, developed a love of costume design during her sophomore year. Since then, she has codirected and costume-designed her own show, To Slay a Demon, and created solo mime, acrobatic, and living statue performances in Paris and across the U.S. She is a theater major modified with visual arts

DCF:How did you get involved in costume design?

I’ve been active in theater since grade school, and I joined the coed fraternity Phi Tau in part because they produce a lot of theatrical events. One of my frat mates worked in the costume shop and invited me to join. I was always impressed by the hats she whipped up for Phi Tau performances, so I did. I loved it so much I changed my major to theater so I could go into costume design. That’s the kind of thing that happens at Dartmouth. You might say those hats changed my life.

DCF:You do living statues in costumes you create. Can you describe one of these?

For living statues, I like to create a character that startles or inspires people walking by, and makes them smile. One living statue I performed in front of the Hopkins Center—part of my independent design project in theater—was Water Sprite on a Starry Night, a painted, flower-covered dress and a hybrid of two famous paintings: Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Gustav Klimt’s Water Serpents. I did this to draw people into a whimsical, fairy tale-like world, and brighten their mood.

DCF:What project are you especially proud of?

One I enjoyed creating, also for my senior project, was The Traveler. My inspiration was Baba Yaga, a witch in Russian fairy tales who lives in a cottage that walks on giant chicken feet. My character wears a leather-trimmed canvas coat with a top hat I made to look like a Russian cottage, with shingles contouring the surface and a non-opening window and door. She is full of surprises and stories of far-off lands. I gave a performance on the Dartmouth Green, designed especially for families with small children.

DCF:What do you enjoy most about theater?

Definitely audience reaction. Theater has a magic that suspends daily life for a bit. It makes you think about things you wouldn’t normally think about, and become inspired. I love both to perform and to be part of the creative process that goes on behind a performance, to create something with my hands and see reactions after it’s all done. There’s nothing more powerful than seeing or hearing afterwards that your performance has had an impact on people. Those are magical moments that make it all worth it.

DCF:What are your future plans?

In the long term, I plan to found my own theater company, SoleilRising, a blend of circus and theater arts. I’m a big fan of contortionism and acrobatics—I grew up climbing trees in Oregon forests—and I practice those skills regularly. Circus can be delightful in a lot of ways that modern theater cannot, because there’s an impetus for theater to be critical and delve into big issues. You need that, but I feel you also need joy, inspiration, and creative ideas that show you how incredible people can be. Circus, through great feats of acrobatics, can do that.