Studio Visit: Malia Andrus

Studio Visit: Malia Andrus

Studio Visit is a weekly Q&A with a local artist. Here, a visit with Malia Andrus, an actress and costume designer.

Q: I was impressed with your nice, clear soprano voice in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Did you study voice?

A: I did. I had several private teachers when I was growing up in Lakewood, Colo. I lived in Scotland for three years and studied privately there, too. And I studied here with Dawn Harris — and when I need assistance, that's who I go to.

Q: When did you get into theater?

A: I think my first (stage production) was when I was 5. My mother likes to say she played show tunes to me in her womb.

Q: You focus on acting and costume design, right?

A: I split my time between them. Most people don't do that. For me, these are two different activities. I personally love the challenge of telling truths on stage, whether they be through my own performance or through representing the truth of characters or of story through costume design. It's a challenge visually. It's very different than fashion design. You look for something real in terms of time periods. You want that sort of reality, but you also want the truth of the character to be there. You also have to convey the overall themes and message of the play. I like working with color and line to sort of really drive those thematic elements home. Visually, (Sarah Ruhl's) "Eurydice" was a very good example because the underworld was bleak and cold. The idea was that everything was washed out and gray and dirty. It's also about being in tune with the vision that the director and actors have.

Q: Do you prefer costume design or acting?

A: That's really a tough question. They're very different modes, and they have different points of exhilaration. What's wonderful about performing on stage is you have these moments of rush every night and you interact with people immediately. For me, in costume design, there's that big rush of seeing the things I envisioned in my head come to life on the stage.

Q: Besides "Eurydice," what are some of the other productions you've costumed?

A: Most recently, I costumed "Or" at the Station Theatre and "You Can't Take It With You" at Parkland College. In the past year, I also did "Thoroughly Modern Millie" for the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company. Also, "39 Steps" at the Station is one I was particularly proud of. I did three shows for the Illini Union Board when I was in graduate school. Because I tend to do period shows, there's a lot of building of costumes. I tend to make a lot of things from scratch when I can't find the things I need.

Q: What are some of your favorite on-stage roles?

A: I've been blessed to be involved in a lot of good stuff. "Rent" was meaningful to a lot of people, not just the cast. I also was in a Thom Schnarre play, "How I Learned to Drive," at the Station, and that turned out to be a very intense and affecting experience for me. I have had a great time with a lot of musicals, too.

Q: Aren't you a data analyst by day?

A: Technically, my title is senior engineer at Waterborne Environmental at the Research Park. My Ph.D. is in agricultural and biological engineering, but at this point, I deal with large data sets, looking for the relationships among the data. I spend a lot of time writing statistical and analytic code.

Q: Where did you do your undergraduate study?

A: I have a bachelor of arts with a double major in biochemistry and art history from Colorado College. I also have a master's in art history from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Q: Isn't that where Prince William and Kate Middleton went to school?

A: Yes. Kate Middleton was one of my students. She was one of my best students. She was conscientious, worked hard and wrote well. It was a very strange experience because one of my jobs as a student was to lead historical tours of the town. But when I was doing that and Wills announced he was coming up to St. Andrews, I had to be trained by the university press corps. Suddenly, it was like the world descended on St. Andrews that summer.

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