MDI High School Costume Designer Retires After 100 Shows

Marilee Marchese’s creations in action in an MDI Drama Department production.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARILEE MARCHESE

BAR HARBOR — This year’s one-act play was the last show dressed by longtime Mount Desert Island High School Drama costume designer Marilee Marchese.

Since taking on the role of costume designer in 1995, Marchese has sewn performance clothing for 14 choir shows and 86 pieces for the local high school for a total of 100 different shows.

Marchese, who learned to sew at a young age, developed an interest in clothing design over the years. In college, she sometimes designed clothes for herself and close friends.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts, Marchese landed a job as a library assistant at MDI High School, where she worked for a few years in the early 1980s.

Marchese then designed outfits for private functions until he was asked to costume members of the Mount Desert Ballet Company in Town Hill in the early 1990s.

Her first costume sewing gig for high school was a performance of “West Side Story” in 1995, conducted by former teacher Dan Mills.

During MDI theater director Casey Rush’s first year teaching in 1998, Marchese had no intention of returning for another year until he begged her. “She eventually came back and has since done an amazing job building and maintaining the costume collection here for the past 20 years,” he said.

When directing a play, Rush noted that Marchese was his best critic. “In a pleasant way, she would often humbly give me the unvarnished truth about the show’s blocking and staging.”

Whether it was a fall musical, a one-act competition, or a spring play, Marchese thoroughly researched the production’s story setting and characters. before creating a costume.

“She was great with time periods and her choices were based on practicality,” Rush said.

Marilee Marchese, who has designed costumes for 100 MDI High School shows, poses in a homemade design.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARILEE MARCHESE

One show Marchese remembers as particularly labor-intensive and repetitive involved making several similar gorilla costumes for the high school’s rendition of “Tarzan.” At that time, she had designed something that required cutting hundreds of strips of brown felt, a task that required more hands. If she needed the mass production of certain sets, a grateful Marquise would often have volunteers to help with time-consuming tasks.

“She always worked with such grace and empathy,” said Rush, who added that Marchese was great with kids.

MDI High School alumnus Darci Smith said Marchese had the quietest, most grounded presence and was a natural teacher. “She approaches the students with kindness and patience. She rolls up her sleeves and dives in, methodically and systematically,” she said.

Smith said Marchese’s practicality is balanced by flexibility, a sense of humor and a genuine sense of the students she works with. It enables students to assist, provide feedback, propose ideas, and undertake self-direction while directing cohesive production design.

When Smith was cast as Eva in the high school rendition of “Evita” in 1998, she was embarrassed to wear a strapless dress and nervous to speak because she felt it was important to recreate that look. Sensing Smith’s discomfort, Marchese fashioned the dress with a halter top and tailored the shape to Smith.

Marchese’s last show was the school’s one-act production, “Kafka’s Metamorphosis,” which wrapped in March.

Although Marchese is grateful for her time in high school, she thinks it’s time to hang up her sewing scissors.

“This year, I just think I’m ready to be finished. It’s time for me to move on. I told Mr. Rush this because of some health issues I had, as well as because I felt like I had done this long enough,” she said.

**This story has been updated to indicate Marchese’s last costume design show was for the Mount Desert Island High School Drama Festival one-act play, “Kafka’s Metamorphosis.” Liz Braley costumed “The Coarse Acting Show,” a spring play that MDI Drama wrapped up last week.

Ninah Rene

Ninah Rein, originally from MDI, covers the city of Bar Harbor. She is happy to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor’s degree in San Diego from the University of California.

Ninah Rene

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