Whether your tween just decided she wants to trick-or-treat tonight or you’ve been invited to an impromptu Halloween party, theater veteran Kristi Thielen has two pieces of advice: Calm down. And don’t sweat the small stuff.

“A lot of people get really bent out of shape because they try to be too literal in their thinking about a costume,” Thielen said.

In other words, if your heart is set on looking exactly like a particular movie character, you’re likely to be disappointed. “You’re never going to find that exact costume.”

Instead, Thielen suggests, think in terms of costume components — a cape, a scarf, a hat — that can convey the image you want to portray, whether that is a pirate, a clown or the Joker from “Batman.”

“Don’t get hung up on the fact that the tie has to be the exact color or the coat has to be the exact fashion,” said Thielen, who has been directing children’s theater for nearly 30 years and is now at The Journey Museum. “Hats, makeup and small hand props are your best friends, because they can convey an idea better than anything.”

Thielen suggests starting with one piece that appeals to you — maybe a long swirling skirt in your closet or a pair of striped polyester pants from the dress-up bin. Then, “figure out what could work with that.”

Last-minute costume design can be an exercise in “thinking like a

theater person,” as Thielen puts it.

Rather than spending lots of time and money on a costume, look at what you have available and think about ways you can adapt it to fit your needs.

“Halloween’s a great opportunity for you to learn to think creatively,” she said, adding that she often reuses costume parts. “I’ve torn things apart, I’ve re-sewn them, I’ve used things upside down, I’ve used things inside out, I’ve used things backwards. You just have to think outside the box.”

Ribbons, sequins and feathers can transform a superhero’s cape into a fairy princess cloak, for instance. When creating a last-minute costume, “hot glue guns and staple guns are your friends,” Thielen said.

Don’t feel a costume has to represent a specific character, either. Pair a glittery purple vest with a yellow vest, a colorful hat and checked pants, and you’ll look and feel ready for Halloween.

“What specific costume is it? Who cares?” Thielen said. “It’s Halloween and you’re having fun.”

As long as your feet don’t hurt, that is. While you can get away with wearing pants that are a bit tight or a shirt that’s too big, your shoes have to fit.

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“If your feet hurt … you’re just going to be miserable,” she said.

And if you can’t find the perfect shoes to go with your costume, Thielen suggests using an actor’s trick: Wear dark shoes that won’t call attention to your feet.

If you trick-or-treat at Thielen’s West Boulevard home tonight, you’ll be greeted by Professor McGonagall of “Harry Potter.”

Thielen has followed her own advice to create the costume, starting with a witch’s hat that matches Minerva McGonagall’s.

“There’s no place you can find her professor gown, so what I’m wearing is an old graduation gown that I found at a junk store,” Thielen said. She planned to find an old brooch to complete the look. “I’ll throw the whole thing together and I’m good to go.”

Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or heidi.bell@rapidcityjournal.com

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