Photo by Steve Roberts

Bruce Bui: Resident Costume Designer for Ballet Memphis

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Bruce Bui was raised in Southern California after his family immigrated to the United States in 1985 from Viet Nam. By the time he entered California Lutheran University in Ventura, he knew he wanted to study theater design, with an emphasis on costumes. Prior to graduating, Bui had launched his professional career, working for clients like Kingsmen Shakespeare Company, a professional theater group associated with the university.

“After college I freelanced for a couple of years in southern California, but realized that I didn’t want to work for the big movie studios,” recalled Bui. “I preferred to stay in the theater realm. There was a job posting for a costume manager for the ballet that brought me to Memphis.”

Bui continued, “The job evolved as I grew with the company. Seventeen years ago it was just me, and I was the first full-time wardrobe manager for Ballet Memphis. Back then we were in the studios in Germantown. The shop grew as the company grew. Now we are working in a new facility in Overton Square that opened last summer. My title is Resident Costume Designer and Wardrobe Manager and I have three colleagues who work in the shop throughout the season.”

Bui invites people to the building and encourages them to come to the shop itself.

“Our costume shop is on the main floor, so it can be viewed by anyone who walks in,” said Bui. “I’m so proud that the hard work of our CEO and Founding Artistic Director, Dorothy Pugh, can be seen here — our amazing facility and the work we do.”

Bui explained that the shop is open from July through May. Typically, there are four main stages per year and multiple second stages, including shows that they do in “found venues,” such as Memphis Botanic Garden. There’s also a series of informal shows performed in-house and other performances while touring, like those at the Alabama Dance Festival in Birmingham.

“Even though we are off during June, the work is basically non-stop,” said Bui. “I still come in to handle orders and other paperwork, restock supplies, etc.”

For every show Bui interacts with the choreographers and develops the ideas for costumes. 

“The first step is to draw sketches, which have to be approved by the artistic staff and the choreographer,” said Bui. “Once the designs are approved, I order all of the fabrics, notions and trims that will be needed to make the sketches come to life as costumes. Next I draw the patterns or manipulate old patterns to give them a fresh new look.”

He distributes the work and his colleagues provide sewing support, cutting out and sewing “mockups” if necessary (fake fabrics that simulate the expensive fabrics), or moving straight into working with real fabrics. “A lead character’s costume can take from four days to three weeks,” explained Bui. “It takes a week and a half to make a tutu, which includes the skirt and the bodice. In dance you have to take your lead from the dancers and make sure their costumes are appropriate for their movements.”

In addition to the work Bui does for Ballet Memphis, he enjoys being involved in the community. He has volunteered his time with Memphis City Beautiful and their Trashion Show, a fundraiser that involves taking recycled or discarded items and turning them into wearable fashions. In 2012 he won Best of Show for his white evening gown with a swath of blue (formed from white dry cleaning bags and blue Commercial Appeal bags) and “sequins” cut from 2-liter plastic bottles. And, he has been involved with Memphis Fashion Week, sitting on panel discussions for them and teaching patterning classes for Memphis College of Art. 


STREETSEEN  |  Melvin A. Lewis

Photo by Steve Roberts

Melvin A. Lewis: Executive Director of The GAAL HOUSE

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Melvin Lewis is a man who believes that all lives can be changed for the better. As the Executive Director of The GAAL HOUSE, he works everyday to do just that, trying to help other men gain life-time sobriety.

“The mission of GAAL HOUSE is to create and maintain a sober, safe and spirit-filled environment for our male residents,” explained Lewis. “After the men have gone through treatment, they transition at our residence, learning fiscal management, spiritual development and life skills. By empowering them with the opportunity to succeed and prosper, they can enhance and embrace their respective communities.”

And Lewis doesn’t just “talk the talk,” he has “walked the walk.” A native Memphian who graduated from Carver High School, Lewis found his adult life had gone down the wrong path.

“I was married and had grown kids, but I was completely strung out on drugs and alcohol,” said Lewis. “My life was at a very dire point. I knew I was just living to get high.”

Lewis continued, “In July 2007 I surrendered to God. I went into a treatment program. My wife, Mary, continued to be supportive by visiting me and after treatment, she became very active in my recovery.”

As the years went by, Lewis held down various jobs and is now the sole proprietor of Miracle Hand Mobile Car Wash and Detail Services.

“By August 2014, I felt like God was leading me to start a recovery house to help other men,” recalled Lewis. “A friend of mine, Wayne Randal, offered to help me secure a house as a residential facility. We secured a house at 1541 Cranford, and as they say, the rest is history.”

In January 2015, GAAL HOUSE was founded as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

“The word ‘Gaal’ means ‘Kinsman Redeemer,’ a biblical term for one who steps in on behalf of another who needs rescue,” explained Lewis. “Our goal for these men is life-time sobriety and productivity. By focusing on the individual and not just the addiction, each man is given the opportunity to be re-made whole, one man at a time.” 

Since its doors opened, GAAL HOUSE has served at least 75 men. A second location, at 4491 Dunn, was acquired in 2016. Referrals come, after treatment, from Lakeside, Delta Hospital and The Harbor House. Services include shelter, food, transportation, and one-on-one and group counseling. The program is fully funded by individuals and private donations. Additionally, they receive support from their Board Members, all who are volunteers.

“We’re applying for grants,” said Lewis, “and seeking people to sponsor a bed ($600/month per person). Also, we would like to partner with churches and their outreach ministries.”

Lewis said they want to embody their mission statement, “Continue To Change Men’s Lives One Man at a Time,” by growing their offerings to include more scholarships to help those who can’t afford to pay. Also, he would like to spearhead quarterly “team events” — like cookouts, outings to Grizzlies games, etc., — to help residents get out in society without alcohol or drugs. There’s also a need for a van, as well as a part-time driver and a part-time maintenance man.

“We are here to serve — trying to help men become productive citizens, to return them to their families and society as responsible, whole human beings practicing daily sobriety,” said Lewis. “This alone could help change so much in our community.”  

For more information, visit or call (901) 515-6377.

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