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Costume Highlights
from Houston

Carey Hanson
Costume Design & Technology Commission

With session information gathered from Jessica Parr, Mary McClung, William Henshaw, Ginger Robertson, Linda Kelley-Dodd, Helen Siebetis, and Robert Liebhauser.

It is true! Everything is big in Texas. This year in Houston, not only was the convention center extremely large, but there were a large number of interesting and inspiring sessions to attend. Not only did the Costume Design & Technology Commission offer a variety of sessions for costume members, other Commissions offered sessions that were of great value to Costume Commission members.

Before the conference started, many Costume Design & Technology Commission members were able to attend two Professional Development Workshops. As Melissa Mertz reported in an earlier Sightlines article, Donna Meester and professional photographer P. Solozano instructed members on how to take photos that reflect the true art of theatre design. This workshop also allowed members to see how to use Photoshop in order to make any corrections after production photos are taken. The second Professional Development Workshop session combined the art of pattern making with the need for computers in costuming. Jennifer Smith led a two-day session using PatternMaker Software to build the basic patterns needed to optimize time in a costume shop environment.

From the very beginning of the regular conference activities, there was no time to waste. Opening day started with four wonderfully inspiring costume sessions: Iron on Embellishments, Costume Study in London, Fearless Footwear, and a look at exotic dance costumes of India in the session Jewels of India. These four sessions set an exciting tone for the rest of the conference. Thursday began with the ever popular Costume Poster Session. Looking around the room members saw everything from masks to creatures to petticoats. The Costume Poster Session was very well attended by students and professionals.

The next session offered on Thursday gave members the opportunity to hear from special guest Eloise Kazan, the PQ Gold Medal Winner for costume design. Ms. Kazan shared three things that drive her creativity: a literal interpretation of metaphors, creating a fantastical surreal atmosphere by repeating everyday objects, and a fear of color which she uses only in extreme necessity. Ms. Kazan also shared her fabulous renderings done with Photoshop. Ms Kazan often photographs the actor and uses the images in the execution of the final rendering.

Another exciting session on Thursday was The Figure Confined: The Evolution of the Corset and Understructures. Highlights of this session included an excellent use of models to display each type of period corset mentioned enabling the audience to see the transitions between periods. The session included a wonderful use of pictures in Power Point which displayed primary research for the presentation.

Friday began with an early morning session on A History of Revolutions in Costume and Adornment. This session was followed by a session on Creating Creatures. The first part of this session dealt with mask construction techniques using thermoplastics. A list of 26 steps in the process illustrated from beginning to end how to pattern and construct masks using varaform and altraform. The second part of the session covered the pros and cons of mask-making using upholstery, reticulated, and minicel foam.

The next session on Friday, The Ideal Portfolio, was presented by Rafael Jaen, resident portfolio expert. Mr. Jaen shared many tips for student, freelance, and academic portfolios. Friday evening began with a favorite costume session, Your First Day on Broadway: Working on a Union Wardrobe Crew. This session was followed by a very special gathering in honor of this year's USITT Distinguished Achievement Award recipient, Rebecca Cunningham. (see related store here.) Many members use Ms. Cunningham's books in and out of the classroom.

Saturday was yet another session-packed day for Commission members with sessions on wide range of topics. The morning began with a special session on crafts and wigs with artisans from the Alley Theatre. Paige Willson (craft master/ milliner) and Heather Warnock's (wig master) presentation was informative and highlighted a plethora of techniques used at the Alley Theatre. The majority of the session focused on their 2006 production of Pillow Man, a few interesting projects from other shows, and some nifty uses for their favorite products. This session was filled with so many imaginative ideas and helpful hints.

The next session was entitled, The Designer as Technician, the Technician as Designer which stressed the importance of knowledge and understanding of both worlds. When designers and technicians speak a common language, it sparks collaboration and negotiation which in turn brings ideas alive. For students to know both the world of designer and technician enables them to understand the importance of communication.

The remaining sessions on Saturday dealt with long distance design as well as other job opportunities available for costume commission members. These sessions were Costume Design: Computer Savvy Designers in Long Distance Collaborations; Owning and Operating a Costume-Related Business; and Great Jobs for Costume when Design Is not Enough.

 In addition to all there was to glean from the Costume Design & Technology Commission sessions, there were many other sessions offered which were of great interest to members. Some of these included; Tenure: Not the Final Frontier; Costuming with Cirque du Soleil; En Pointe with the Houston Ballet; The Evolution of the Drag Life and the Modern Drag Culture in Houston, An Overview of the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts; and Visual Plagiarism.

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Eloise Kazan, one of three designers from Mexico who won the Gold Medal in costume design during the 2007 Prague Quadrennial, explained her work as part of a special session at the USITT Annual Conference in Houston, Texas.

Photo/Richard Finklestein