Behind the Scenes at Star Struck Musical Theatre Where Dreams Come True

by Praveena Raman
Tri-City Voice – December 9, 2003

It’s a busy day at Star Struck Studios.  With just three weeks for Honk!  to open,  the cast of 45 are busy rehearsing Act 2. Suddenly the door opens and Marlene comes bursting in, full of energy, with a big smile and a box in her hand.  Christmas has come early to Star Struck.  She rips it open saying “It’s from Canada.”  Out comes a yellow underskirt used for Square dancing “This is for Stacy to wear under her costume.  I will still need to lengthen it as she is so tall.  Will you believe it all square dancing underskirts come only in one size?   They are short.”  Putting it down Marlene walks over to the costume racks.  Suddenly Karthik comes over with a black pant in his hand “Marlene here is my pant for the rooster costume.”  Marlene reaches over and pulls a hanger with an orange red shirt having a black and yellow design like feathers.  I look at Marlene and she says with a smile “In Honk! we are visually creating an illusion about an animal without actually creating an animal costume, like this one.  The colors and design of the shirt will make people think of Karthik as a rooster without a rooster costume.”  (And sure enough I could easily visualize it having just freshly seen two roosters in my yard that very afternoon.  How they got into my yard in Fremont is something I still have not figured out.)

“The most important part of costuming is the color and shape especially in a play like this” says Marlene, costume designer for Star Struck Musical Theatre. “This show has 150 costumes all in the fall colors.  That is important as you don’t want a character to stick out with a wrong color.”  Marlene also mentions that another challenge for this play was to have the design and colors such that the details of the costume could be noticed at a distance as it is being performed at a larger venue at Ohlone College.  So far the Star Struck Musical Theatre’s plays have been in smaller, intimate settings where the audience were nearer the performers and the stage and the costume details could be noticed more easily.  Marlene’s new, colorful creations shine on stage.  When and how did this artistic talent start developing?

Marlene Hogge taught herself to sew when she was barely 9 years old on her grandmother’s sewing machine.  “It was out of necessity” she says.  “I was one of six children and my parents could not afford to buy new dresses for everyone.  So if we did not want a hand-me-down then we had to make one ourselves.”  While growing up in Saratoga she developed a fascination for different fabrics, colors and designs.  She visited a fabric store near her house every weekend to browse, and feel the different materials there.  As she got older she spent the money that she earned by baby-sitting to buy different fabrics that caught her fancy.  She went there so often that she usually knew where to find the cottons or the muslins or any other type that she was interested in.  She also vividly remembers being very irritated when the store manager would suddenly move the fabrics around and the cottons were not where she expected them to be.  At the same time she also started realizing that they purposely did that so that the customers were exposed to the variety that was present, a marketing strategy that she still uses in her own 7-Eleven stores here in Fremont.

Another pastime that she loved while growing up was to go to the mall and see all the window displays.  She knew that retailers put their best things on display and in such an attractive way that it caught the eye of the passers by.

She enjoyed seeing the details and colors.  She smilingly reminisces “I was looking at some old photographs and there were some from a trip that I had gone on in my Junior Year at High School to Los Angeles with the band.  Almost all my pictures of that trip were of the window displays that I saw in the band there.  My friends had pictures of themselves hanging out in the mall or going shopping but not me.”  She made all her prom dresses in High School but she always sewed for herself and not for others.

By her senior year at High School Marlene knew that she wanted to be a fashion designer and applied to colleges with that in mind.  She ended up going to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and getting a Bachelor of Science degree in Textile Science.  While she was a student at Cal Poly she worked part time at J.C. Penny, which was a very small store there.  She remembers how once there was a rack of some very ugly striped shirts that were not selling at all.  She decided to do something about the presentation to help it move.  She layered one of the shirts with a sweater and coat and then tied a fancy belt around it and placed it at the end of the sales counter.  Soon much to her joy it started selling like hot cakes.  However a few days later much to her horror she found that the manager had reordered more of the same shirts.  She learned two important things about retailing from this event namely it is important to reorder merchandise that sell well but it is more important to find out why it sold, was it the merchandise itself or was it the presentation.

Marlene enjoyed Chemistry during her college years so much that she briefly thought about applying to be a scientist at Dupont and helping to develop new fabrics.  However her father talked her out of it telling her that she would not be happy closeted in a laboratory and that she would be happier working with people.  She now feels that he probably was not comfortable about her going to the East Coast to work and wanted her to be closer to home.

After graduating from college she started working at Bullocks Department store as a management trainee in their buying department, thinking that by working as a buyer she could develop contacts with other buyers and sell them designs that she could work on her own in her free time.  However that did not materialize as the hours that she worked were so long that she did not have any time on her own to pursue working on her own designs.

Feeling frustrated she applied for a position as a management trainee for Southland Corporation.  She says “I did not do my homework on Southland Corporation before I went for my interview.  If I had I would have found out that their stores were the 7-Eleven stores and I would not have even gone for the interview.”  As it happened she found this out during her interview and promptly turned down their offer, as it sounded very boring to her.  However they persuaded her and she finally accepted the offer.

Part of her job as a management trainee was to open new stores in the Fremont-Hayward-San Leandro area.  On one such occasion she came to Fremont to check out a location at Mohave Street.  There were no Albertsons (previously Lucky) or Safeway in that area at that time.  She saw the potential in that location and after some thought decided to buy this store for herself.  The next day she went to the bank and got her loan and became the proud owner of her first 7-Eleven store in Fremont (at the corner of Mission and Mohave).  She also moved to Fremont (in 1985) at the same time.

Even though the store was taking her away from her passion of fabrics and clothes she found it gave her the flexibility to be a mom and a business woman.  However she did miss the side of retailing that brought in new merchandise.  She decided to overcome this shortfall by starting her own section of gifts and novelties that catches her eye, in a corner of her 7-Eleven store.  Her customers have loved it and enjoy coming in to her store as she offers them something more than the normal 7-Eleven store.  If you visit her 7-Eleven store this month you will be able to see a wonderful display of Cat in the Hat novelties and also old-fashioned wooden music boxes.

As a mom Marlene spent a lot of time volunteering for all the activities that her children, David and Eric, participated in.  She has always been actively involved in the community from her church to Mission San Jose Little League, Boy Scouts, PTA and now the theater.  In 1997 The John Gomes Elementary School PTA recognized her outstanding volunteering efforts by awarding her the “Honorary Service Award.”

However while her children were growing up Marlene only occasionally stitched a Halloween costume for her children or helped in the productions that her children participated in by making a few costumes.  In 2001, when her son Eric was cast in Star Struck Musical Theatre’s “Sleeping Beauty”, Marlene was introduced to the Star Struck family.  She started helping Joyce Stoppel, the costume designer for that show.  It was in this show that Marlene got an opportunity to design a costume after a very long time.  Joyce had thought of a design for the witch’s costume but needed help in executing it.  Marlene came up with a pattern for the design and sewed it.  It was in the next Star Struck Show “Annie Jr,” that Marlene got an opportunity to design all the costumes (a total of 86) for the whole show.  “I had helped out in many community shows before but nobody actually asked me to design one until Lori (that is Lori Stokes, director of Star Struck Musical theatre.)”.  From then on Marlene has designed the costumes for all the Star Struck Productions.

Marlene says that designing costumes for a show starts before even auditions.  She meets with Lori Stokes who gives Marlene her vision for the show.  But Lori also gives Marlene complete flexibility in producing the designs for the costume.  “She trusts me to take it in my own direction but she also knows that if she does not like it, I would start all over and do what she has in her mind.  She also gives me a reasonable budget to work with.”  It is a great partnership.  Marlene also has the freedom to choose the colors, fabric and designs in developing the characters, unless the script calls for something specific.  “Marlene is an incredible, gifted designer.  I am so grateful that she shares her talents with Star Struck.  She makes every child feel so special in their costumes – they finally ‘feel’ the character they are portraying.  She’s awesome!” says Lori Stokes, director of Star Struck Musical Theatre.

Costume making is the last creative layer of the show and a very important one.  “Like an icing on a cake.” says Marlene with a smile.  However the challenge of this whole creative process is that until all the characters put on their costume and act out the play on stage (which is during dress rehearsals a week before a show opens) the costume designer does not know if their conception of the characters was correct or not.  But Marlene says, “It is still exciting for me to see the character change and come to life because of something I have made for them.”

Marlene presently lives in Fremont with her husband Steven Hogge and her sons David and Eric, owns two 7-Eleven stores (the second one at Decoto opened in 1999) but only designs and makes costumes for Lori Stokes or her son Eric Borlaug who is directing his first play “Christmas Post” this season (see related article “Christmas Post”).  “This December is very busy for me” says Marlene with a smile “I am making costumes for 36 characters for Eric’s play that is set in the 1940s and which closes just before Honk! opens.  But it is fun as the shows are completely different, one is creating an existing look and the other is fantasy.”  And surely Marlene’s fantasy and dream of designing and creating new looks have finally come true.

Come and see her wonderful costumes in Honk! and see if you can recognize all the animal characters.  Together with Lori Stokes’ creative directing, Nancy Godfrey’s imaginative music, Jeff Oliveira’s wonderful vocal direction and the cast’s talented rendition, I think you will have a lot of fun and not too much difficulty in identifying the animals.

Come and see this wonderful pair and hear their great music in Honk! Premiering in the South East Bay, Honk! is scheduled to open on December 19th, 2003 and will run through December 21st, 2003, with four public performances. Performances will be at Jackson Theatre, Ohlone College.  Performance days and times are Friday December 19 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday December 20 at 2:00 and at 7:30 p.m.  Star Struck is also doing a special show for the Ohlone Family series on Sunday December 21 at 2:00 p.m.  For information on Corporate or Community Sponsorship or to buy tickets visit the Star Struck website at www.starstrucktheatre.org.  Tickets for Honk! can also be bought by calling (510) 659-6031.  Ticket prices are Adults $18 and students/seniors $10.