A self-professed "chemistry geek," Stewart attended Western Kentucky University on a chemistry scholarship, and she also worked in the theatre and dance department.
"The turning point for me was in the middle of the second year of college," Stewart said. "I had a conversation with my dad, and he said, 'You know what, April? I really think you're in the wrong field.' He was the one that told me I should be in the theater."
Fast forward to 2010, and Stewart finds herself working as a costume designer and wardrobe manager for Cirque Dreams "Holidaze." It's a job she loves, full of whimsy, artistry and creativity. The week of Christmas, Stewart will help transform the Fabulous Fox Theatre stage into a wonderland of holiday fantasy from Dec. 21-29. Her artistry turns dancers, acrobats and other performers into ornaments, including charming gingerbread men, toy soldiers, snowmen, icemen, penguins, reindeer and more.
"The performance is an all-around sensory treat," said Stewart, a former Belleville, Ill., resident.
The 20-plus costumers design and manufacture every costume, hat, wig, mask and wardrobe element in the show. Stewart and the team have at their disposal thousands of imported fabrics, custom prints, Swarovski crystals, jewels, appliqués and novelties from around the world. "Everyone works so hard together, turning ordinary things into extraordinary things," she said.
While she's worked on aspects of many of the different costumes, her favorite "Holidaze" costume is a classic doll.
"I'm actually in love with our rag dolls. We have Raggedy Andy -- well, it's our spin," Stewart said. Each doll also had a half-size matching puppet with full fabric wigs. "There's quite an involved process to making the hair. Making four of these was quite a labor of love."
In addition to work, family is also important to Stewart. While she lives in Florida and has a long-term boyfriend, Jamie, she's close to her family, including her nieces, nephews and especially her boyfriend's 6-year-old daughter, Savannah. One of the upsides to having a costume designer in the family occurs each Halloween. This year, Stewart designed Savannah a nontraditional costume -- Cinderella's evil stepmother. "We trick-or-treated for two and a half hours and received nothing but raving compliments."
Before his death two years ago, Stewart's father again reiterated to his daughter that life is too short not to be happy and that she made the right decision to work in theater.
It's a message fitting for everyone this holiday season: "You have to realize what is precious in your life, and if you can do something you love, you're never really working, " Stewart said.
Stewart's Favorite Places in St. Louis
St. Louis holds a special place in Stewart's heart. She lived in Belleville, Ill., with her sister for two years. During that time she helped raise her niece and nephew. While in town, some of her favorite family haunts were the Magic House, Busch Stadium, Forest Park and the St. Louis Zoo.
She also loved the City Museum (701 N. 15th St., 63103, 314-231-CITY). "What a great place for looking at things in a different perspective," she said. And the Everyday Circus teaches Chiffon, hand juggling and euro acrobatics that are essential to cirque productions, she added.
The trendy and hip Central West End was a favorite shopping destination, and Stewart particularly liked all the boutiques that "upcycled."
The Fabulous Fox Theatre (527 N. Grand Blvd., 63103, 314-534-1111) never loses its charm and splendor, she said. "Just going into the Fox and seeing the interior and the grandness of the lobby is so nice."
Back in town for Christmas this year, Stewart is looking forward to continuing her family's tradition of driving through the Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows (442 S. De Mazenod, Drive, 62223, 618-397-6700).