When you head out to the theatre, you often take note of the talent on stage — the leading lady singing her heart out in a single spotlight, or the showstopping dance routine that makes you want to get up and groove in the aisles. But behind the curtain is a whole team of people working towards that final product: lighting co-ordinators, musicians, set builders and, arguably most importantly, costume designers. A single outfit can reveal so much about a character — their social class, mood or the time period in which they are living — and in order to create said outfits, there is a talented person putting them all together, spending hundreds of hours at the kitchen dining table sewing, pinning and snipping fabric to get it all just right. In the South West’s case that talented seamstress is none other than Deb Prentice, a self-confessed “hobby” costume designer who now has four State costuming awards to her name. But although the theatre is where her true passion lies, the 58-year-old works as an interior designer — admitting a career in wardrobe was not readily offered during her studies. “When I was growing up, WA didn’t offer anything like that,” she said. “It wasn’t even in my radar that that would have been something that I could have (pursued). “If I had my life over, I would love to be a costume designer — like Catherine Martin. She is my idol.” Growing up as an active member of the Bunbury Repertory Club, the seamstress said she always had “theatrical tendencies” but “sat on the fence” about what vein of design to pursue. Taking her struggle quite literally, Prentice developed a unique ball gown as part of her final assignment for her degree in graphics and design. “We had to do a parade walk-out for our graduation, showing your chops after four years kind of thing,” she said. We had a brief to follow and I couldn’t decide, so I literally sat on the fence for a really long time and my lecturer said ‘OK, that’s it. Stop sitting on the fence’. So I decided to make the fence — I made a ballgown out of barbed wire, and metal and stuff like that.” Upon graduating she found work in Perth as a pattern maker, before moving into marketing and real estate for local shopping centres — creating shop fit-outs and activations. At the age of 33, Prentice returned to Bunbury to raise her daughter, Holly, wanting to be surrounded by family and give her child the same “country-kid” upbringing she herself had experienced. Taking after her mother, Holly found herself drawn to the world of theatre, roping the pair of them back into the Bunbury theatre scene. Prentice’s first production as costume designer was BRC’s 1998 production of Old Time Music Hall, though she also showcased her talents at the yearly Carols by Candlelight at the Graham Bricknell Memorial Music Shell, designing the set and costumes each year. As her projects became “bigger and bolder”, her skills took her to the Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre stage in 2009, when her daughter was cast as the Artful Dodger in the South West Opera Company’s production of Oliver! Taking on set and costume design for numerous productions, her dedication to the company led her to become the SWOC artistic director for 13 years. In 2012, her talent was recognised on a Statewide scale when she brought home the Robert Finley award for best costumes in a musical for Bunbury Musical Comedy Group’s production of Eurobeat, lighting the fuse for a series of Finley wins. Her most notable works included Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Fiddler on the Roof and, most recently, the Phantom of the Opera in 2018 —all three shows winning the best costume title and putting the name Deb Prentice into the minds of the WA theatre community as one to be remembered. She said she believed it was her attention to detail and “historically accurate” costumes that won her the prizes. Prentice stepped down from the all-consuming voluntary role as artistic director to prioritise her health after a run-in with cancer but continued to fuel her creative needs through her work as an interior designer. A long-time creative partner of local Bunbury entrepreneur Glen Fitzgerald, she has helped bring to life popular Bunbury nightspots including Fitzgerald’s Irish Bar and The Pavilion Night Club. The pair are embarking on the creation of a new cafe in Koombana Bay — 62 Thirty — which, in her own words, will be “organic industrial” in style. She said the design process, for costumes or interiors, was all about evoking emotion. “It is all about an emotional reaction to your surroundings and what you see and feel, changes how you feel . . . and that was very much the big theatre connection,” she said. “It’s the same principles, just one’s on a person and the other’s on an inanimate object . . . they’re really similar, actually.” When asked if she had ever considered returning to the world of the arts, she said only her dream show, The King and I, would tempt her out of her hiatus, but for now she wascontent keeping the hobby as her “fun thing” on the side — and holding very extravagant family costume parties.