Story by Emily Gregor
Photo courtesy of Josie Poppen
The fine arts department sees a hodgepodge of costumes come and go whether they are producing “Macbeth” or “Childe Byron.” From the minute the production is announced to when the final curtain closes, costume designers at Drake University are working to make sure the characters look the part.
“Whoever the designer is, they will then do research, finding things that will tell the audience about the characters or how they feel about each other, how we feel the characters would dress,” Josie Poppen, costume designer and instructor of theatre arts, said.
Poppen aims for a lot of the design work to be put on the students’ shoulders.
“I don’t design all of the production needs, but I facilitate who does what,” Poppen said.
She also has an elite costuming crew made up of students including juniors Kyle Dvorak, Cameron Reeves, Hayden Kraus, Molly Nelson and Natalie Schmit. These students are in charge of helping to teach underclassmen tricks of the trade while costuming their own productions.
For underclassmen majoring in theatre, it’s mandatory to take the costuming class, with a 60-hour lab requirement.
“I feel like the most important thing is the practical stitches, like hand stitches and some of the machine ones,” first-year Katja Seasholtz, who took the class during the fall semester, said.
Despite the preconceived difficulties associated with learning how to sew and design costumes, Poppen emphasizes that the work may be extensive but it’s doable.
“Really it’s actually easy for actors to be designers, because as actors they have to think about the same things designers do, like ‘Why do they walk like this?’ or ‘Why do they dye their hair?’” Poppen said.
Other obstacles, like budget constraints, have to be faced when designing costumes as well.
“Ultimately, to make something right it costs a lot of money,” Poppen said.
To overcome this problem, the department will often reuse old costumes or completely repurpose them.
“We can take a skirt from one thing and make a new bodice for it,” Poppen said. “Repurposing is something we do a lot.”
After the designers figure out how to execute the costumes for a production both economically and practically — after all the measurements have been checked twice and fabric’s been chosen and cut, they are on their way to creating a character for the audience to perceive.
“There’s a quote, ‘Before an actor opens their mouth, we see them,’” Poppen said. “And in that moment of silence, we have a visual connection with that character, whether it’s how they are, what country they’re from, or whether they’re angry or sexy.”