NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Shannon White heard that some health care professionals were forced to resort to repurposing disposable plastic water bottles to serve as face shields.

The thought that there could be a shortage of basic personal protection equipment for those on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic broke White’s heart.

So, as prop master at George Street Playhouse and being accustomed to whipping up all sorts of everyday items – sometimes repurposed from bits and pieces of other things - she figured she would try her hand at making face shields with a 3-D printer and sewing reusable gowns.

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White’s colleague at the New Brunswick-based theater company, costume shop manager Joleen Addleman Loyd, is also using her ingenuity to sew masks from scrap and materials.

Together, they are putting their unique skill sets to work to help hospital workers in New Brunswick and beyond.

For White, if she’s not helping find the right stethoscope for “Midwives” or the perfect baseball bat for “Last Days of Summer” or helping bring other George Street Playhouse shows to life, at least she can feel as if she’s contributing to the battle against the coronavirus.

“When this first came about it, obviously it was very scary,” White said. “And it really does help to feel good about what you're doing and it's really nice to know that someone doesn't have to use a Poland Spring bottle and you can give them something. I mean, it may not be perfect, but it's definitely better than what they had and that is very fulfilling.”

White and a friend, Sam Ghali, are each using 3-D printers and following instructions they found online. Sam prints the headband part and White prints the bottom ridge that helps the masks keep their form. Then they assemble the pieces, adding the acetate shield.

Sewing the gowns, White said, has been more of a challenge.

The gowns are made of Tyvex, a paint suit material. When that runs out, White will use polyester scrap fabrics left over from past theatre projects.

“I was reading all the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)  guidelines for the material I should be using,” White said. “They actually recently relaxed a lot of guidelines so people can be using more wide variety of material because things are in such short supply. But usually once I followed the pattern, like this, my first one took me forever, but now I can typically get one out in like three or four hours.”

Similar to White, Addleman Loyd was prompted to start creating personal protection equipment after seeing a report of a hospital in the Midwest that was asking home sewers to make masks for their doctors and nurses.

There was no shortage of materials lying around her house to start making masks. But still, it’s been a test of her skills, even though she’s had years of experience sewing. The first pattern she started using didn’t offer any support near the nose area.

For Addleman Loyd and White, they plan to keep churning out the equipment while they wait for the day the curtain can open on a new show at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.
“I just really love being a part of the show,” Addleman Loyd said. “I started as an actress when I was in junior high, in high school. Then in college is when I made the transition to being backstage, but I still just really love being part of the show. So even though I'm not on stage, I know that I had a hand in helping tell that story and helping those actors feel more confident and grounded in their character and feeling their best to go out there and looking good so they can go out there and tell the story and give the audience a good time. I just miss being part of that bigger thing.”