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All dressed up for a youth benefit

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AUBURN - For just a day, a doctor's office was transformed into a dress shop, with racks of tulle, satin and sequins in the main rooms, fittings and mirrors in the examination rooms.

More than 200 half-priced evening gowns and wedding dresses were up for grabs at a dress sale fundraiser the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse held for its Youth Theatre, a program that transforms classroom curriculum into theatrical performance at schools throughout central New York.

“It's really a great chance to not only help yourself out, but help a great organization, as well,” said Hilary Ford, who helped organize the event.

The Youth Theatre began about 50 years ago and has since become one of the largest, and under recognized arms of the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, organizers said.

The program, which recruits actors from all over the country, services 60 schools from Buffalo, to Cortland to Watertown. Performances are educational, often based on school curriculum and sometimes brainstormed by students.

“For some of these students, it's the only theater experience they get,” said Carole Estabrook, the educational theater coordinator.

The program kept 100 percent of the profit from the dresses, discontinued or unsold styles that were donated.

Sisters Betsy Nowak and Peggy Simmons came to the sale to search for attire for Simmons' July wedding.

Nowak, the maid of honor admired in the mirror a plum purple satin gown that was perfect, except for the two-inch gap in the back, where the zipper would not quite zip.

Nowak marveled at how well her dress matched the one her sister had found - the perfect combination of elegance and simplicity, its only flaw the long train in the back.

But the dress sale was a full-service operation. The theater's costume department was on had to handle fittings and alterations. Nowak and Simmons were thrilled to hear their dress shortcomings and excesses could be fixed with a few snips here and a few stitches there.

“This is just perfect,” Simmons said, as her dress was pulled back into a narrower silhouette. It was the first wedding dress she had tried on.

Not all shoppers searched the racks with an event in mind.

Evellyn DeMitchell peaked out of a fitting room, a bright pink dress clinging to her thin frame, a rhinestone-framed cut-out exposing a few inches of her side. At 16, Evellyn had no place to wear a dress like that.

“It was just fun,” said Evellyn minutes later, now wearing a full-skirted white dress covered with blue flower embroidery. She said she enjoys trying on fancy dresses, just to see how they look. Armfuls of organza, lace and silk - more than a dozen dresses - were shuffled in and out of Evellyn's room as she modeled the different styles.

From behind her closed door came a rhythm of “oo”s, “ahh”s and “oh, that looks beautiful.”

Staff writer Sarah Gantz can be reached at 253-5311 ext. 237 or

Dresses still available

Private appointments are available for groups of three or more through the end of January. Contact Sherie Ramsgard,, for more information.


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