Monday, November 3, 2008

Shit Sandwich

Bless me friends for I have been under my self-made pile of work for too long and it's been two months since my last blog entry. Upon graduating from Summer Stock (which I feel I did and would have given myself an A) I was happy to return to my boyfriend, full-time job, and support network that has been so dear to me here in Chi-Town. But as the Costume Gigs lined up I just couldn't say no. These included A World Premier for a modern dance company, A remount for a darling children's theater, and Betrayal, a four person play about that very subject. The Ballet also heated up as New Artistic Director and Up-And-Coming Fashion Designer created a whole set of new costumes like three days before the show opened; which translated into the costume world means they pointed and nodded and changed their minds everyday while we sewed, seam-ripped, and sewed some more and then dyed, color-removed and dyed again. Actually, I can't believe it's only been two months. I feel I've completed a year's worth of work.

In September, I was tired. I'm also getting to the point where I've exhausted the friends who used to sew for me for very little money. They keep waiting for me to get the big gigs. Then again, so do I:) I forgot my only niece's birthday. Instead, I sewed hundreds of silk bias squares onto the six dresses in the Modern Dance world premier just to get a full and wafting skirt through which the dancer's legs could appear and and then disappear. The piece was an abstract narrative about the recurring themes throughout the history of the sephardic community. At Opening during one movement, which we referred to as the rape, the male dancer attacks the female (in a dancing way of course) and a square of her dress came off. It was poetry. The red square on the stage was a material symbol of something lost during rape, something so many women have lost throughout history. As the attack continued another square tore off. As the male dancer finally let her be, she morned her loss and took the red silk up into her arms blending the mishap with the choreography. I was moved; and I had already seen the piece more than 10 times. Normally when something like this happens, I am mortified, convinced that my career is over, and temped to run home and hide under my covers for a few days. But instead, I greeted the Choreographer after the show, "I did that on purpose," I said. "Really?" he asked with an expression I had never seen before. "No," I laughed. I know better than to suprise directors especially in a large venue such as Milleneum Park. "We need to tighten that up," he turned and tended to other opening night matters. Needless to say I spent the following day feeling more like shit than I had in a long time.

When my friend asked me over the summer to costume Betrayal, I said yes right away. I was feeling confident about the piece I was designing in September and the one in December, but feeling like there would be a gap for November when I had nothing on stage. "Do you know anyone who could do the set?" she asked me a couple weeks later. "Well, I've always wanted to try set design," I answered. It was true, I have in the recent past enjoyed building workshop shelves for myself as well as technical rendering, but even for a blackbox theater, I was not equipped with the skills or time to figure out how to make a set. The set called for indication of receding backwards in time. And every time I met with the director, it was apparent that I had some clever ideas, but few that would do with no time, crew, or budget. Eventually we had something that happened. And I was proud of my first set. When I told my co-worker in the early fall that I was costuming Betrayal "Quick-change nightmere," was the only thing he said. Because I came so consumed by the set, I left about three days for costumes, which actually did very well. There was no budget, so I mostly just pulled from stock, changed a bunch of closures to velcro, and called it done.

The problem with all these interesting, yet taxing, projects is the question of weather I'm wasting energy that I could be using on the well-paid gigs or to be spent with family. And the way I sometimes rationalize is that lawyers do pro-bono work all the time. But isn't there some law that states they must give equal counsil to any represented party. Do they pick and choose for themselves, or does the firm do that? Just the fact that people are interested in what I do has always been enough for me, but when I start losing too much sleep, how do I myself choose? For me it clearly hasn't been the paycheck. What role do I play to the director? Am I simply a means to an end, or are my artistic choices respected and valued? What do I mean to the community and the theater, and do I like the people I am working with? Do I feel the end product is important to be put out into the world for an audience to see? These are the questions I must keep asking myself.

This past week, my car broke down on the way to a dress rehearsal and it took $300 to get it back on the road. My computer fell of the coffee table and lost the entirety of it's harddrive, which included images of my costume work from the past four years along with some art photography. Tonight after a difficult day at work, I missed my stop and took the train 60 blocks too far into the far south side of Chicago. People call me with tasks for costumes for their cover bands and I have to say "No." I have to practice it in my head. "No." I have to go on vacation. I have to shower my forgotten family with gifts. I have to design a giant musical in the upcoming weeks.

Last month I was tired, this month I'm exhausted. It's hard not to get glum after a difficult week, but I keep reminding myself that the wind has been at my back for quite some time.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Home Sweet Home

After three years in Chicago, and having been away for two months, it now feels like home. And I'm so happy to be here.

During the last part of summer my crew (which sadly went from 3 to 2) and I seemed to drag. I wanted to be a strong leader, but I was tired and had to force myself out of bed in the morning, as did they. Baby, the last musical at Summer Stock, was the smallest of all the casts at sixteen, with six principals. The story did call to elapse obviously over 9 months, so there were a lot of costume changes. The only pieces we really built were pregnant bellies. We did some stenciling to make punk rock jackets and school logos and lots of altering of X-large garments into Maternity. In comparison to our 10-hour-+ days on all the preceding musicals, we averaged about 5-6 hours on this one. As dress rehearsal approached I somehow felt guilty about not working more as the director and his assistant would begin rehearsal at 9am and block well past midnight.

But it turns out that it was just a low stress show compared to the others. The day before dress and opening I played two hours of tennis and went hiking for four, which left me almost unable to stress during rehearsal because I was so physically exhausted (nice trick for high-stress days). I packed up my car with half of the stuff I brought out of my studio. My new apartment in Chicago would be half the size of the one I moved out of in the spring, and I needed room for the puppet. Yes, I did indeed haul the Fruma Sarah back with me across the Canadian Border and again across the border through Detroit. She was so scary and fun, I couldn't leave her in somebodies tent Up North to grow mold and drown in snow flooding.

After tieing up loose ends with the theater company, I hit the road. Montreal was my first stop, only four hours out of town. When I arrived at my hotel, I was exhausted, I remembered how much I hated hotels, but more, how unready I was to navigate a new city. I thought it would be exciting and I would get to practice my French, but actually I developed a nasty cold, got some Pho soup to take back to my hotel room, cried, and went to sleep. All summer I had lived and worked with people who shared my interests and goals. I missed my friends in Chicago, but I never felt lonely like I thought I would. So anxious to escape Summer Stock, I forgot to plan enough time to drive 18 hours home. The day after Montreal, I drove and drove, then sat in rush hour traffic in Toronto. And then drove and drove. The best thing about the trip with Canadian radio; I got a lenghty biography of Jesse Owens in French, Canadian Olympic victory updates, and tried to decipher the quick-tongued francophone news casters.

After a short family visit in L.A., which was wonderfully relaxing, I am back in Chi-Town at full speed. My next project is for a Latin-American dance company with one of my favorite choreographers. The work references the history and diaspora of the Sephardi community. Researching has been an interesting journey back millenia. The costumes will bear references to 13Th-Century Islamic dress, but as they are for a modern dance company, are abbreviated, of course.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

It's been a couple weeks since I posted, and as they say, "No news is good news."  The new director is wonderful.  Fiddler on the Roof went up without too many glitches.  
He was respectful and interested in my ideas and I even made a giant puppet fruma sarah, painted by our very talented scenic artist.  (Pictures to come 
soon.)  My family arrived today.  What a feeling of support and comfort to have them here after
 driving seven or so hours.  (My dad insisted on taking the scenic route.)  They are going to see Fiddler tomorrow.  

I get extra special nervous when they are around as I know they will be judging me and accepting me in a certain way that no one else could.  

Me, I'm exhausted, creatively, emotionally, physically.  This summer has taken a lot out of me.  The blessing and curse is that I have solid work lined up until December 26 (my birthday of all days).  Yesterday I made business cards with my favorite sketch on it-The Gnat from The Cunning Little Vixen.  I designed the opera for a class in college and whenever anyone asks what show I would most like to design, I say that one, because it was one of the most creative pieces I've ever done.
I've also started to design Baby, a musical by David Shire which premiered on Broadway in 1982 about three very different couples all undertaking pregnancy at the same time.  All summer long, everyone has been saying "Oh yeah, Baby," as if to imply, "We'll get to that when it comes.  The show requires about twelve performers, which is half of the smallest show yet, with six principals.  It sounds easy, but when the show is dependent on costumes to elapse nine months, a costume change is required almost every scene, so really it's just another giant musical
This in mind, I have found myself particularly interested in Baby because of its period.  Yes, nineteen eighties are now "period," and I have discovered that most of our costume "stock" is from the nineteen eighties.  And what a proponent of the eighties I am.  For research, I have been looking at The Brat Pack, The Cosby Show, Nine to Five, Family Ties, and all the NON-REALITY TV I grew up on.  How refreshing:) 

I finally have some quality pictures from Cats and Cabaret and have posted them.  
With less than two weeks left here, I am starting to feel like I will miss the people, miss the rain, miss the itty bitty theater, the togetherness, the music, and even the stress.  But all good things come to an end and a rest is due.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Couple Cabaret Photos

One of my mentors in Chicago always says "You should have one note after final dress."  Seeing as how in this case first dress was final dress, I had about seventy five notes after final dress.  Which ones do I do, the directors or mine, I think.  Director had no less than a tantrum during tech because he didn't get everything he wanted, from all departments.  Bear in mind the show boasts a production budget of give or take $4000.

Moving on, I've started Fiddler on the Roof.  The New Director is quite patient and encouraging.  He also looks to designers for ideas about their field.  He posted all of his research in the studio for everyone to look at and explore.  We've had several productive meetings, and are communicating quite well for people who just met.  Although I have to say Fiddler on the Roof is not exactly the open heart surgery of costume design.  You screw this one up and you might as well choose a new career path.  I'm able to hand over a lot of the collageing and altering to my assistants and they are doing a great job.  

My big project for Fiddler is The Puppet.  When an elderly widower is matched to marry the soft-hearted Male lead's oldest daughter, the widower's dead wife rises from the grave to scare away the bride-to-be (well mostly the bride-to-be's mother).  Normally, this character is done with a singer carried on the shoulders of a man and an extra long dress covering both bodies.  Instead, we are using a puppet I have designed.  I've never made a puppet before.  And I am getting help from a few people in carpentry and scene art who have.  

Other than that, I'm exhausted.  I haven't felt this exhausted since I was in college.  I know challenges are good, but sometimes I wonder if all these projects are actually more deteriorating than strengthening.  I haven't been out for a run in over a week.  I at more meals at Dunkin Donuts and Burger King in the past couple weeks than I care to admit.  And still I love it.  I wish I could be a little more controlled and realistic sometimes, but the fact that it always gets done keeps me going.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

so who cares so what

"Do designers get private housing?" I ask during my interview.
"Oh yes, of course, private housing."
"Where is the studio space and what resources are there?"
"The studio space is in a ski condo.  The theater company only operates during the summer, so it is not set up when you arrive.  You may set it up as you see fit."
"How many sewing machines do you own?  Irons?  Serger?  Steamers?  Tables?  Stools?  Sewing supplies?  Shelving?"
"What is your stock like?  May I stop by a couple weeks in advance to have a feel for it on my way to visit home?"
"Don't bother coming early.  There will be nothing here for you to see."

Apparently in Summer Stockish,

Private Housing = Sharing and Kitchen, Bathroom, Family Area, and hallways with my three immediate co-workers and six other company members.

Studio space in a ski condo = choosing between an 8x10' room in the beating hot sun with 100+ costumes and three coworkers, asking performers to try on costumes in the bathroom with no mirror, and being in virtually the same room as the performers all day, so that I can't listen to Patty Smith, let alone hear myself speak.  Oh, and the space is essentially an unfinished cement storage area that is literally crumbling around me.  Sweeping doesn't help.

NO REPLY = They don't know what the hell they have.  "Fifty costumes," I hear one day.  And the next day I am asked to load and unload fifty bins of clothing from someone's storage tent to the unfinished cement rehearsal space.

Don't bother coming early as there will be nothing here for you to see = We won't even let you see your space or your costumes until almost a week after you are called to be here.  


We had a studio run with most costumes today.  It put me in a sad mood.  Usually, I feel I have control over my designs and the quality of execution because I have time to execute them and my own skills to rely on.  With two weeks to put up a show while having to keep the other show running, it is nearly impossible to keep these controls.  I sat through the run disappointed.  I have thought about this show for months, shopped it, designed and redesigned.  But without a number of really skilled artisans to help, it doesn't matter how well-thought or well 
designed a piece might be.  I asked Props Master who is always watching, "Do you think it looks terrible?"
"What are you talking about?  It looks seedy.  It's a seedy show.  It's not supposed to look like The Rockets.  They're supposed to look destitute."  And she's right.  A fault of mine is that I think all of my shows should look Polished.  And sometimes it actually inflicts on the outcome.  If I could just get more inside the show, if I could just go deeper and think about how I would dress if I were a hooker or a gay, male hooker in Berlin in 1929, then maybe it would be a better show.  I have to stop thinking about my sketches, and my process, and my wardrobe tracks and think be the Character, be every character, and then when I go home, I can be my anal, aesthetically-obsessed, everyday self.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Just tell them if you have personal problems inflicting on the work environment, they should leave the problems at the door or don't bother coming in."  Stage Manager consoles me through my tears after I send one of my assistants home for giving me 'tude at work.  I felt like a parent must after they punish their children for the first time.  The reason I am so perplexed is that she isn't a fussy teenage intern.  The moment I met this woman, who is only two years my junior, I felt she was light years beyond me in maturity and self-assuredness; her solid stance, peaceful nature, and general care and awareness for her surroundings did it.  And after asking her to leave for the day, I second-guessed myself a lot and it made the next few days of working together in our 8 x 10' "studio" pretty awkward.  


"Bring me a fucking coat," Director indicates during rehearsal a day before.  
I give him a blank stare, "What did he just say?  Did he just swear at me as I am busting my ass, standing at a sewing maching eight to twelve hours a day for his show?" I think.  
"Designer, can I have an overcoat as quickly as possible?" I went to get him a coat as quickly as possible then dropped it on the floor next to him, pissed.  
I go home that night thinking, "I don't get paid enough for this.  My credit doesn't read Bitch.  Maybe I should go back to Chicago.  Maybe I should tell him to shove it and see how he likes it.  But I go in to work the next day.  After I just can't take my anxiety over the unnecessary cursing, "Director, can I have a moment with you
 outside please?" my heart rate doubles at the thought of confronting him.  "If you need something for rehearsal, I just need to know what scenes you are rehearsing the next day," as the daily call doesn't always say.  
"Why are you telling me this, I haven't requested anything...if I need something I'll ask."
"Um well the whole thing about the coat yesterday, with Earnst, if I had known you were doing that scene..."
"Ooooh,  thaaaat, oh honey, that wasn't directed towards you, I was frustrated with the actor.  If ever I'm having problems I will do exactly what you did just now and tell you straight.  The rehearsal was going all wrong--that just happens, I directed my negative
 energy to the wrong person.  I noticed his eyes were curved and kind.
The following day Director discovers me by the loading dock breaking down to Stage Manager.  "Is there going to be a coat for Kost you know that type of billow...oh, oh my" he notices my misty eyes, "Are you OK?"  He gives me a hug.  


I always hated those graduation speeches that were like "It's not about the classes you take or the tests you take, or the curricula, it's about the people you meet."  
I always wanted to reply to those "Than why the hell did I fork out $35,000 a year (or whatever my percentage was) when I can meet cool people working in a coffee shop.  But maybe then I was feeling obligated to be antisocial because I wouldn't have gotten through college otherwise.  With one show opened, one on the way, living with my co-workers and sharing a way-too-small ski condo with a way-too-small refrigerator, I am experiencing anxiety over new relationships, admiration for those I originally detested, and working on a truly remarkable story with perfectly marvelous people.  

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The nice thing about summer stock is that I have been fortunate to have just a bit more time to really focus on character and color, rather than just slamming out shows as I often times must do back in Chicago, as I work a full time in production on top of designing.  Here are some of my renderings for Cabaret:


Herr Schultz
Kit Kat Girl
Frauline Kost
Frauline Schneider

come to the cabaret

Friday, July 11, 2008

Postage Stamp Stage

I write to a friend in Chicago that this is the smallest Theater in which I've ever worked.  "I'm sure the stage is the size of a postage stamp."  She replies.  My first reaction to the dress rehearsal was that the wigs were way too big for the stage.  

Let the Memory Live Again

It's been some time since I've had an hour or two for writing.  As an update, CATS opened well.  Most of the houses have been sold out minus Sunday, which was seventy percent.  Dress rehearsal got pushed back 24 hours due to Tech delay because of the theater's dimmer melting.  We ended up making one cat suit, hand painted with hand-knit warmers, some wigs, and various accessories to polish the rental a bit.  

During dress rehearsal, Rum Tum Tugger's wig just would not stay on.  I pinned it myself for the second dress, discovering that because of the punk-rock look of his character there is a fine buckram, yamaka-like base make the hair thicker and spikier at the top of his head.  It is impossible 
to pin into.  So, after spraying his pin-curls with lots of hairspray pinning the wig cap to the pin curls, and taping the front of his wig, we also turn the wig inside out until just the buckram is resting on his head and secure that part to his wig first, before putting actual wig pins into the pin curls.  I got it down to 20 minutes before I handed it over to our assistant musical director who doubles as wig and makeup consultant; he has his cosmetology license.  

Director ended up leaving town
 mid-CATS for personal reasons.  In his absence there were a few in-company self-nominations to take his place.  But Artistic Director ended up calling in a kind and wise young actor who was in the CATS national tour to coach the company into opening.  "Are you the replacement director?" I ask hopefully.

"No, I'm just the CATsultant."

Hehe, I think.  His dimples flirt with anyone in a 10-foot radius.  

Dress rehearsal with him is a breeze.  We talk openly and kindly about how to make this cat more sexy, and this one cuter, and he gives me some makeup notes, but mostly encourages the entire company and tells me just putting CATS up, whether I designed it our not, is a "major accomplishment."  The real satisfaction I feel is that I'm one fourth done with the summer and I'm not yet over budget.  I'm happy to see that it actually looks professional and polished on stage.  I enjoy the catchy music and most certainly am still moved by Memory, a song my sister sang incessantly growing up along with my mother's favorite, Barbara Streisand, whom I was forced to listen to while running marathon errands in my mother's 1972 Volvo (the angular kind that look like a giant Lego).

The day after opening I spot Director at CATS' Sunday performance.  Immediate anxiety sets in.  I don't want to go to the production meeting in the morning.  I stay up all night to work on renderings and read the script three or four more times.  I also make color palettes to share with the scenic and lighting designers.  But mostly I think I stay up because I want to savor my precious last moments before I must continue my working relationship with him.  "Nobody ever makes me feel this self conscious," I think to myself.  What is going on with me?

Our production meeting goes well.  I try to move it along to relay color concept with the other designers and touch upon logistics rather than getting delayed by details that the director and I can discuss without everyone waiting.  At the end of the day Director tells me "Everything's looking great.  Thank you."  I'm flabbergasted.  

In my newly re-instated self-security, I wonder about catalysts for human energy.  There are two main types initiate by one person onto another; positive and negative.  I discovered in high school that when someone yells at me to get me to penever come out or freeze up and not do anything.  I have also learned that when someone is too kind and understanding, I tend to go easy on myself as well, in work circumstances that includes, extending deadlines, and sometimes substituting verbal discriptions with hard visual illustrations.  I remember being considerable afraid of my father as a child and not because he was abusive or even really mean.  He did seem powerful and not to be fucked with.  From age twelve on, his inner softness, his inner child, and his humanity grew increasingly apparent and I can remember asking him finally, "What was that, you used to be so scary?" 

"I believe in raising children with a healthy dose of fear," my dad answered.  

Was this what Director had done to me?  Scared me shitless into producing a thorough set of costumes for him?  It is the opposite experience I have had with most directors; I think because with other projects, the directors picked me themselves.  In this instance, the Artistic Director hired me as a Costume Designer and him as a Director, which can get complicated.  Now I know to always ask to speak to the director before I agree to a job. Although at first Director's comments felt like a very negative attempt at getting what he wanted, I am at peace with his antics and rather relieved by his straight-forwardness.  After all, two weeks is a minuscule amount of time to make a meaningful and cohesive Theatrical experience.  

On the upside, this week I finally realized that I am meeting some wonderful people here, with whom I have already shared my dreams.  

Sunday, June 22, 2008

It Couldn't Please Me More

I've discovered today that Director has trouble summarizing and doesn't believe in using complete sentences.  That would take way too much time.  He speaks of minutia not concept.  For example: 

Below.  Sketches.  No color.  Women.  Men.  Sex.  Nudity.  Cross-dressing.  Unfinished.  First stab.  Not quite right.  1920s.

I worked for a few days on these sketches, but at times it seems as though Director would rather someone with a dictaphone and no creative aspirations.

The drawings took some scrutiny, but I did manage to salvage some of my creative ideas.  

Although this gig is constantly degrading, I am excited about designing Cabaret.  Casting was dictated to me today as a recorded.  And once the stock is cleaned and sorted, it is actually quite extensive.  I found some perfect straight-silhouette fur coats, wide-leg mens pants, derbies, and bobbed wigs.  I gave my assistants a patterning lesson the other day, so hopefully they can apply it to some of the designs.  Aside from a few key custom-builds, I'm anticipating extensive trim application and alterations.


After 4 full days in town company manager finally lets me see "storage," which is actually decades of costumes in plastic bins covered by a tent structure and tarp.  A storm had damaged storage months ago and nothing was moved.  

Our poor mannequins have definitely seen better days.  I hope they go to mannequin heaven.
Mold has gotten the better of some bins.  

As Quirky Assistant #3 cleaned out a box of storage today she screamed suddenly at the sight of a mouse in with batting and hair supplies.  It turned out to be a whole family of mice.  In the heat of the moment, I forgot to take a picture.  They sure were cute though.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Open Shop

On May 20th 2008, I approach the director and artistic director about my design ideas for Cats.  They are true to the era of T.S. Elliots Practical Cats, but I was hoping create a cleaner, more contemporary look, without so much cattiness.  In the original, every Cat has every line of a Tabby, Spotted, or Calico, and, frankly, everyone who has not seen this Cats in theater has seen them on a poster or in the newspaper.    (Not that Designer, John Napier, wasn't brilliant, and he most certainly deserved his tony).  I do think rentals are effective and often times relieve a designer from summer stock's rushed schedule.  And from a global-ecological perspective, the less costumes built, the less resources wasted.  I'm certainly not interested in wasting resources but I'm also not interested in re-inventing the wheel.  

On May 25th this is what the Cats director sends me:

I look forward to working with you.  I really want to make sure that if we rent some of the costumes and build the rest that they look like a complete production.  I do not want to have a gap in the quality or design of the production.  It seems that anytime we try to rent some and build the rest it never quite gets to where we want it.  I do not want leotards and tights when body suits are what is needed and what the rest of the production is wearing.  I understand the reason that you may want to design certain elements but I really think we need to bring in as much of the finished costumes as budget will allow.  I have already cut down the cast size and do not want to have to worry about the costumes which can also put a strain on the cast as well as the production team as was the case last year.  The reason for renting is that I want to focus on building Cabaret and not to have to worry about Cats and the specifics of getting the production up and realized.  We do not have the resources to get the quality that we may want.  In 15 years the location and getting materials and resources has always been a hurdle that we only have been able to overcome by bringing in as much of a certain production already finished as possible.  

Just a warning,


Hello?  Doesn't he know that I work for a professional ballet company?  Does he know that it is basically my job to blend new costumes into an existing production by painting, dyeing, shopping, fitting, patterning, and directing a staff to help?  It's one thing to criticize or change a designer's original vision during planning phases but it is quite another to assume that their design standard and quality control sucks before you meet them or see their work.  Upon receiving this, I think, "I can not go, I still have options, jobs I can take in Chicago or elsewhere, I have my own projects I've been dreaming up for years.  Oh, I see, they just post a job listing as costume designer when reallyits a wardrobe schlepper they are looking for.  Another sherpa with a fancy title.  Great, I take a giant pay cut and trek my ass across the U.S. to learn nothing."  

At least last year when I spent a good chunk of my savings on a humanitarian volunteer trip to Tajikistan in the third world, I learned about real stories, real struggle, and met truly sincere and intelligent people.  I learned about China's current influence on the rest of Asia and the contemporary issues concerning the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the effects of the failure of the dream of communism.

Before I write a scathing return-email, I sleep on it.  The next day I reply:

Mr. Director,

Sure.  This sounds good.  Since there is much uncertainty about our resources lets just rent the whole of cats.  If there is still time and if the programs aren't printed, please change my credit from designer to coordinator.  

Thank You,


I was way too nice.  I bent over and took it.  

Over the next few days, I talk to some friends and mentors about it, and decide that "Yes, maybe a month is too short to build/collage a Cats.  At least now, I can focus on Cabaret."

Over the next few weeks I question myself relentlessly.  Did I not approach the director early enough with my ideas?  Why am I going to the middle of nowhere to do this with people I don't even know?  Has he seen my work and doesn't like it?  Cats is the reason I took this job.  I am one of those designers who lives to do animal/fantasy, ultra creative work.  One of the reasons I pursued costume instead of fashion.  

                                                    I do some free work for a performance artist in Chicago
who gets me an introduction with a puppeteer whom I really admire in Chicago and I reluctantly admit that I'll be gone all summer and very busy in the fall.  

After signing rental contracts, ordering makeup, and preparing a neat "costume-bible" of rental information for Cats, Director shows up to summer stock and calls a production meeting.  We spend 90 minutes on the set and lighting.  The set design is an intricate model recently made by an older male designer who is planning on having his crew build a safe and performable junkyard in 10 days.  He talks through smoke and lightning effects with the lighting designer.  I get quiet.  "Is everything ok with the costume rental?" he asks me.  "Yup," I answer, along with some more specifics.  Now I'm pissed.  I approached him over a month ago with my ideas and they are shunned but these designers are now just getting started and they get to collaborate, create and learn?  


I recall some advice from a designer I met at when I was a milliner at the Santa Fe Opera.  At the end of the season, this magical costume shop in the middle of the mountains lets its craftspeople give workshops and skill-shares.  This designer was giving a rendering workshop and he said, "I will not raise a generation of designers who bow down to directors."  Meaning that we should take ownership of our Design title, embrace it and blaze through our endeavors as artists.  I need to practice that.

Earlier this week and today:  Our shop isn't ready the first day.  This day we wash all the costumes I shopped on half-price day at Unique in Chicago. It hails nickel-sized hail.  Cool!  This is really a wonder of nature.  We have no tables, no chairs, no stock, just me and three wonderfully quirky, willing and able assistants rearing to go.  When our stock is finally revealed to us to load into the trailer, half of our stock was stored in a tent which collapsed over the winter.  The costumes grew sick with mold and became disposable.  I couldn't throw out a moldy Pierre Cardin vintage tail coat.  Why did they not store this indoors?  Don't they know that Pierre Cardin trained Jean Paul Gaultier who discovered Martin Margiela who discovered Anke Loh, who informs cutting edge design today in venues such as Centre Pompidou and the Art Institute of Chicago?  Could they not at least keep that inside, or donate it to somebody who could?  Four mannequins were covered in mold, crushed down to the side as though they were slaughtering a yoga posture.  "So how much'll it cost to get you sumora these guys?" Production Manager asks.  "Between 300 and 1000 each."  I reply.  "Can you borrow some from your school or your contacts or something?"  I called summer stock several times before I left Chicago asking what I could bring and nobody could tell me.  

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Road East

Determined to overcome all limitations, I pack
 the bulk of my studio into my Honda, remembering warnings like "There will be very few resources up North, it's best to have as much as possible before you arrive."  

The trek from Chicago is mostly wonderful. I take my boyfriend down memory lane at my alma mater and stop to smell the roses in a beautiful little nook of Boston while I still have a chance.  

Saying "See you soon," for two months to the love of my life is hard, but I put him on a train home.

I visit as many family members from my GIANT Irish-Catholic family as possible, including my healthy and witty Nana of 83 years!  "It's so liberal up here, you can go nude if you want," she tells me.
A mix of nostalgia and adventure develop along the drive North.  Rumaging through my Grandmothers basement, I find some old handwork and textile samples she's happy to pass along.  For the last part of my drive, I am accompanied by Laconia bikers, encountering signs reading "Bikers eat free in 4 miles" and "Gear down for barbeque."  I wish I were I biker.  I also encounter some stunning green architecture and extraordinary wildlife.   

1600 miles later at an average of $4.30 per gallon, I'm here.  I notice dancing statues in front of the theater and wait on Rt. 16 for another company member to greet me and show me my housing.  "We're not sure where we are putting you yet," the company manager informs, "Pretty much, we have a stock of about fifty costumes in large, plastic bins."  Just hang tight until we're ready to get your shop up.  The housing is a ski condo stocked with 400oz of maple syrup, many sizes of ski boots, and gators and fleeces folded neatly in my room as though a family of skiers would show up on a moments notice.  

I make my bed my home office.  I haggle with Rental Houses for a few hours and shop on the Internet for makeup and wigs.  Glamor.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

T minus 12 days and counting

It's a week and a half before I report to my summer costuming post.  Yes, dare I say, I'm off to be part of those two dirty words summer stock!  Every costume designer abhors it, yet they all do it.  

"New Hampshire?" my friend in Chicago says, "Is that in Vermont?"  

"Oh you're doing summer stock, like Judy Garland?" my dancer friend asks, who obviously has never had to do summer stock.

"Yes, I'm just like Judy Garland." I reply.


"Well you seem well-qualified for this position except for what seems like limited experience with stock." the artistic director warns before she hires me.

Three months before I am to start, I sign a contract and receive one script.

A month and a half before I start I find out programming.  Cats, Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, and Baby.

One month before I start I find out who is directing.

So what if I have a limited experience in stock.  I've designed a dozen shows in the past year.  I've plenty of time, I arrive on June 16th, the first opening is on July 5, thats two weeks for each GIANT musical.  Slow panic sets in...