Two racks of costumes with distinct colors and styles, sewing machines lined up and fastened on a large, messy worktable, and a wall of hand drawn pictures of story characters in their customized clothes — this is a corner on campus that has birthed designers and theater productions over the last decade.
UC Irvine’s Drama Department is always busy creating. This season, students will present “Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches” by Tony Kushner, a story that deals with the complexities of sexuality within society, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2 in the Robert Cohen Theatre at UCI.
After spending four straight days decorating the feathers on the wings of the character Angel with other designers, Leanna Moore gives the angel wings mounted up onto the platform a gratifying look.
“It’s a treat for the eyes,” Moore, the Costume Designer for the upcoming show, said. She has worked along with her fellow designers on the designs since October.
Moore is one of the few at UCI pursuing an MFA in Costume Design, a degree earned by hands-on experiences that encourage creativity. Every year, a student in the program will pick a play and be responsible for designing the entire set of costumes for the show.
The stressful week before dress rehearsals has begun for Moore, whose job consists of ceaseless communication with the director, scene, set crew and her staff costume designers. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on a Saturday, Moore is at work making sure the elements of designs come together and the actors are fitted in their costumes.
“The key [to working in theater] is just to be really flexible,” Moore said. “Sometimes in dress rehearsals the director will ask, ‘try a different shirt,’ and you’ll have to come up with something quick.”
As a designer, Moore oversees the costume designs and answers questions about how she wants them to look. So she would be seen running up and down from the studio to the costume shop, talking to different people and solving problems.
“There’s gonna be tough days, but if you love what you do, you know, you’ll go shopping for that one item until you find it,” Moore said.
At the other corner in the costume shop, Julie Carr, also a MFA student in Costume Design, tries to use sharp tools to pull the black beanie in her hands apart for the Bronx Woman in the play about a homeless lady living in New York.
As designer for fall 2013’s “A Christmas Carol,” Carr appreciates the freedom to be creative in designing the costumes for the show.
“We get to have fun, more or less,” Carr said. “It’s stressful but fun because you get the final say in everything.”
The fast-paced MFA program also draws students like Kaitlyn Kaufman to learn the design skills necessary for portraying characters and telling their stories on stage.
“I like the storytelling aspect of [costume design],” Kaufman, who learned to translate her knowledge and research about an era into visual details that people can see and feel for the play “Orlando,” said.
Kaufman also experimented with her designs with the nation’s only fabric printer in a university. This costume technology with the use of a giant inkjet allows students to design and print their own unique textiles.
Besides its innovative technology, the program also has some of the most successful alumni and alumnae in the field, including Samantha E. White, graduate of ’04 and Kristine N. Haag, graduate of ’06, whose design works appear in the television series American Heiress and films such as Undercover and Tron.