Down time is the norm in theater, where it's common to see actors and staff knitting, crocheting or cross-stitching backstage. These skills, fine-tuned in...

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Down time is the norm in theater, where it’s common to see actors and staff knitting, crocheting or cross-stitching backstage. These skills, fine-tuned in the off hours and between shows, now form the backbone of StageCraft, a new gift shop at ACT Theatre.

At the shop, on ACT Theatre’s third floor, mini-biographies of the artisans’ theater work — including acting, directing or working behind the scenes — are displayed along with mosaic mirrors, watercolors or tablecloths for sale.

Audience members now have a direct connection to the people on stage, and they, in turn, have a creative outlet for their hobbies.

“It makes these people more real, especially the actors,” said Nicole Boyer Cochran, ACT’s artistic manager, who manages the shop. “People don’t realize if a Seattle actor gets three or four shows a year, that’s great, and that leaves 20 or 30 weeks unemployed. If they can fill that in by making the crafts, they’re able to make a little bit of money.”

StageCraft at ACT Theatre

700 Union St., Third Floor, Seattle. The store is open for one hour prior, one half-hour after and during intermission for all shows at ACT Theatre. On Nov. 24 it will be open from noon-7 p.m. See www.acttheatre.org for the schedule, or call 206-292-7660, ext. 1224.

Actor Marianne Owen Beattie came up with the idea last year during “A Christmas Carol,” when she realized everyone backstage was working on a craft, even the children. She enlisted fellow theater professionals to supply a shop, and soon gathered more than a dozen willing to make goods to sell. Now, about three dozen people rotate their work through the shop.

“The quality of work astounded and thrilled me,” Beattie said.

And the shop is fulfilling for the artists, Cochran said.

“The joy for me is when we cut the checks, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, somebody bought my stuff,’ ” Cochran said. “It’s $50 for groceries or gas, or $200, and they can buy more craft supplies and pay their rent.”

Here are some of the artisans whose work is featured at StageCraft:

Defining character on stage and in clay

Acting and pottery don’t appear to have much in common, but for Eric Newman, they are inextricably bound. Actor Newman has done both since he was a child, and considers both critical to his peace of mind.

“I’m fortunate to have both acting and pottery as creative outlets,” he said. “They don’t necessarily support each other well, (but) they support my psyche well.”

Pottery is more tangible than acting, he said. People can decide whether a pot is done well.

His bookshelves are packed with plays and pottery books, and Newman often can be found at Seward Park Clay Studio between shows. Occasionally, the two intersect. A play once required a lamp that had to break for every show, so Newman fired several vases so they would break easily and stand in for the lamp.

His pieces at StageCraft include bud vases, bigger vases and some bowls. Some pieces, like a platter, are on the high end at around $250, but bud vases are $12. He likes to keep prices reasonable.

“I really feel those with a limited income should still be able to have nice things in their home,” he said.

Building shelters for feathered friends

The shop in R. Hamilton Wright’s backyard serves as a place to work on his latest wood projects.

Wright writes in his down time between directing plays or acting in them, but the long-time carpenter also spends time hunked down in the studio making wood projects.

“As any carpenter will say, it’s fun to work on something all day and actually have something there at the end of the day,” he said.

Wright prefers to use reusable materials from demolished buildings that otherwise are thrown away. He likes the excavation aspect, removing paint from an old piece of wood and discovering what kind of old wood is underneath.

The birdhouses he made for StageCraft incorporate that same philosophy. They are made from old cedar fence boards, which he planed and turned into birdhouses, including a duplex.

He would love to sell the birdhouses, priced at $46.75 and $69.75, but if not, “I can always put ’em back in the garden.”

Covering actors and tables in style

As wardrobe master, Sally Mellis is often backstage covering a number of needs, including gluing an actor’s ear to his head, putting scars on someone’s face or helping an actor change quickly into another costume.

But the calm between those moments can be extreme, and that’s when Mellis’ other skills come into play. Currently she is doing felt appliqué, but she also knits and crochets. When she’s not mending costumes, she sews for herself and friends.

She learned to sew in a costume shop in college, and she continues to sew for work, maintaining costumes so they have the same look every night.

Mellis has so many hobbies, she was a natural choice to help supply the store.

She decided on tablecloths, which are simple to make yet appealing. She picks fabrics that will vary by season and adds a border to give the tablecloths some weight.

Choices recently included an elegant leaf pattern that sold well. Her tablecloths, which measure 60 by 80 inches, cost $40-$54.

Mellis is a little amazed that people are buying her goods, but she has embraced the idea, adding cloth table centerpieces and framed felt-appliqué pieces to the items she sells.

“It’s more fun to know things you’ve made are selling,” she said.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com