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Students from Grossmont College and San Diego State University take a break from cutting and sewing costumes for the fair to strike a pose with the theme “mad” — not angry, but Mad About the Fair. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Students work like mad to create fair costumes

DEL MAR — With opening day of the San Diego County Fair less than two months away, a group of students from Grossmont College and San Diego State University spent most of April 2 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds creating costumes for the 2016 event, themed “Mad About the Fair.”

Exhibits and events will be based on steampunk, cosplay, makers and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”

Wearing their creations the students will stroll through the fairgrounds, sing about Alice in Wonderland, run contests and create mazes.

The idea to use local college students was the brainstorm of fairgrounds entertainment director Cathy Mordente, Jerry Hager and Esther Skandunas.

For more than 30 years Hager has been part of the comic duo known as Music with a Twist of Mime.

Every year he creates a new character — with costumes designed by Skandunas — and morphs a surrey bike into something related to the fair theme. He and his sidekick, Larry Keough, bike around the fair running contests and events.

Away from the fair, Hager teaches theater at Grossmont and is the artistic director of the San Diego State Musical Education Performing Arts Troupe. He also taught a theater mime class, which he created for Grossmont’s Theater and Art Department over 25 years ago.

Skandunas is currently a costume fabrication artist for Sideshow Collectibles, which creates small-scale replicas of movie and comic book characters. She fashions prototype costumes for their products.

She began working at The Old Globe Theatre when she was 17. On her 24th birthday she was hired as the costume shop manager at Grossmont College.

Skandunas eventually was named theatrical costume designer, working as the costume pattern maker, cutter and tailor for the shop.

“And I taught students how to sew and construct costumes, masks and accessories,” she said.

Hager said the costumes his students were creating for the fair were “mostly steampunk in nature, with an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ twist.”

Each one received a packet that included patterns, pictures and suggestions.

“They are all extremely creative and they came in with some great ideas,” Skandunas said.

“They brought in their own supplies, ideas and embellishments,” Hager said. “They’re adding color and textures that will bring the madness of the fair alive.”

Steampunk incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by industrial steam-powered machinery. Sometimes referred to as neo-Victorian, it can also include elements of fantasy, horror and historical fiction and can be applied to inventions, clothing and art.

A blend of the words costume and play, cosplay is a performance art in which participants wear costumes to represent a specific character. Makers is a subculture of hobbyists who engage in engineering technology.

The fair opens at 4 p.m. June 3 and runs through July 4. It will be closed all other Mondays and the first two Tuesdays.