Motyer Fancy’s resident designer to retire

After 25 years, Decima Mitchell bids farewell to the drama program and Mount Allison

Since 1993, Decima Mitchell has been the resident designer for Motyer-Fancy Theatre. She’s designed sets and costumes for faculty shows, directed plays, taught theatre design basics to students and worked at various community theatre companies in Sackville.

After 124 productions, Mitchell has announced that she will retire at the end this semester. I sat down with her last week to learn more about her time here, as well as what sparked the decision to retire.

“I’m old!” she said. “This is a physical job. I’m lifting and toting; I’m running up and down a cement staircase.… It’s time.”

Although she’s found success as a designer and director, theatre was never Mitchell’s original plan. Upon earning a BA in psychology at Southern Connecticut State University, she moved to Vancouver to study art, something she “had always wanted to do.”

After graduation, she tried her hand at studio art while working odd jobs. She eventually found a position at a Vancouver community school teaching woodworking to children. Here she met a student’s mother, who opened a door for Mitchell.

“She told me she did set and costume design and I was immediately intrigued but had no clue what it was,” Mitchell said. Upon learning more, she realized, “Oh my goodness, that’s my next thing.”

“It was really that thing that you hear about and read about in novels. You turn a corner and there’s something there for you that you would not ever have known about,” Mitchell said. She worked in community theatre before completing an MFA in theatre design and production at the University of British Columbia. Shortly after, she was hired as the resident designer at Windsor Theatre (now Motyer-Fancy).

Mitchell directed and designed both the set and the costumes for Noises Off in 2014, one of her favourite productions. Decima Mitchell/Submitted

“It’s been a joy. She’s [Mitchell’s] a really hard worker,” said director of drama Dr. Glen Nichols.“I think of the Zastrozzi discussions when she brought the ideas of steampunk to the table, which I hadn’t even heard of. It was perfect in terms of the style and feel.”

Mitchell also referenced Zastrozzi, which was performed in Con Hall, as a standout design. “I was able to use the space in a way that it certainly wasn’t designed to be used,” she said. In terms of directorial projects, Mitchell highlighted Antigone, Beating Heart Cadaver and Noises Off as some of her favourites.

However, the most rewarding things to Mitchell are “the people I work with: the faculty, the staff, the students.”

“I’ve seen people progress from just an interest to doing their own designs,” she said. “That is a process that can be very enjoyable and rewarding.”

One of those students is fourth-year Sabrina Stace, who went from basic sewing skills to completing her own costume designs.

“I’ve been able to find my way in this degree because of her and I’m forever grateful for that,” she said. “She’s really taught me that no matter what happens, it will always work out.”

Drama alum Kendrick Haunt echoed these sentiments in an email. “Decima taught me there are no limits to what goes into a costume design,” Haunt wrote. “I learned how special and different costume design is in comparison to any other form of fashion because you get the opportunity to use anything and everything at your disposal.”

What’s next for Mitchell? She plans to “go south for longer than I have been going south” and move to a larger urban centre. She intends to remain involved with theatre, whether it be directing or working with set and costumes.

That said, she’d prefer to avoid “global decision-making processes. I just want to be the person who does the thing and goes home and sleeps well at night.”

That rest has been well-earned. After all, according to Haunt, “Her many years of experience have been invaluable to both Motyer-Fancy Theatre and to every student who has had the pleasure to call her teacher.”

“Her attention to detail and her wealth of knowledge about fashion through the ages made her an inspiration and an incredible mentor to me,” Haunt wrote. “I cannot imagine Mount Allison without her.”

Jena McLean