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the role of the costume designer

If you chose to serve on the  COSTUME DESIGN TEAM for this semester's Advanced Acting show, you are responsible for participating in design team meetings as well as growing as a designer during the rehearsal and performance process.


If serving on the Costume Design Team, you are ALSO responsible for independently learning about the role of a costume designer as outlined below. 


Please be sure you have your Acting/Design Binder (to collect/document your learning) and your  Process Journal (to reflect on your process/journey).

learning about COSTUME design


Video: Theatre Costume Design & Technology (Oklahoma City University)

Journal Entry:  Skills in Costume Design

  1. What are the many different skills  involved in costume design & technology, as referenced in the video?

  2. What did you find interesting or inspiring in this video? 

Video:  Working in Theatre - Costume Designer (3:06)

Journal Entry:  Roles in a Costume Shop

1. What is the primary role of a costume designer?  (mentioned right away)

2. What types of tasks does a costumer do?  ("typical day")

3. What types of roles are there in a professional costume shop?

4. What skills do you most need to be successful as a costume designer?

5. Whose vision must a costume designer support? 

Video:  Working in Theatre - Wardrobe (27:27)

Journal Entry:  Process of Wardrobe

(Take notes on the process, roles, and skills needed effective for Wardrobe designers.  Document new information and/or anything that you find interesting while viewing this teaching video.)

Video:  American Theatre Wing - Costume Design (5:17)

Journal Entry:  Costume Process & Bible

1. What are 4 things that the designer says is helpful to have as a costume designer?

2. Describe the designer's PROCESS of design.

3. What is a Costume Bible and what (in general) does it include?  

Video:  Beetlejuice Costume Design (9:34)

Journal Entry:  Design Boards

1. What did you notice about the designer's Costume Boards? (list several things)

2. What was important for the designer when creating his designs?  (to reference, to study, etc.)

3. What types of problem-solving had to be done for Beetlejuice costume designs? (problems to solutions)

4. In what ways did the designer collaborate with actors during the process?

Video:  Film Costume Design - Designers Reveal Inspiration for Designs (3:45)

Journal Entry:  What costumes can signify

1. Describe what each costume signified ABOUT the characters described.

2. Think about the characters in OUR show.  What can OUR costumes signify about the characters?  How?  

Task (Formative Grade):  AFTER learning all of the above, create your own Costume List spreadsheet (by carefully reading the script for costume needs).  Consider all the information you learned above as you (re-)read the script, and be sure you've listed on your spreadsheet all stated costumes/costume pieces needed, the implied costume needs, and any character/design notes.  (You may also need to consider if/when costumes needs affect other teams, such as props.)  Once your Costume List is complete, turn it in to KP for a grade.

Task:  Discuss your Costume List with your Design team.  As a team you will use everyone's list to compile one FINAL (Google sheets) props list that you will "share" with each group member as you build and revise it.  See Ms. Price for a preferred Costume list template to use for this spreadsheet.  (Don't forget to "share" with KP, also!)  

Task: Highlight all Costume PROPS on your digital Google spreadsheet in YELLOW. (This would include any costume piece that an actor handles as part of the script's action - things such as hats or aprons.  You need to get these "costume props" into the hands of actors ASAP.) Next, look closely at (and discuss) all other Costume needs with your team to begin to focus in on an overall costume design concept for the show. 

Task:  As a team, create a Deadline Calendar for all of your costume needs, including those you need to find, buy, or make.  Assign costume gathering/ordering/making tasks among your team.  Consider each other's strengths when assigning tasks, and be sure to update your Costume List spreadsheet as you acquire each character's costume.



The design PROCESS starts with the script.  All designers must  read the script. Realistic and interesting designs/design concepts can not be created without knowing exactly what the script requires.


Once  the NEEDS of the script are determined, all designers take the time to  INTERPRET the script:  What does it MEAN?  What's MOST IMPORTANT to convey through design?  What is the HEART of the production?  What should it FEEL like? What's the THEME?  Is there a STYLE that should be considered when designing?  Is there an important or implied METAPHOR that could be shown through design?  What COLORS, IMAGES, and COMPOSITION on stage may best support the director's telling of the story?

Watch the video below in which Tony-winning set designer Bunny Christie shares her design for the play, INK.  Notice all the ways that she references the feeling, mood, and heart of the production which she reflected in her design.


Video:  Design on Stage (Bunny Christie)

Journal Entry:  Reflections on Design (Ink)

  1. What did YOU find visually interesting in Bunny Christie's design?  Why?

  2. In what ways did the designer's SCRIPT INTERPRETATION and/or RESEARCH assist in the creation of her final design?  (List at least 3 specific ways.)

After a designer has INTERPRETED the script (which is shared/discussed with the director), (s)he then goes                                      in search of  rESEARCH & INSPIRATION for the design.  This is often done by researching various aspects of the script/story, including the setting, the time period, historical references within the script, the style or genre of the piece, photos from the time period or setting, source material, etc.  A designer may also research her/his own ideas for design.  See an example of what I mean by this HERE.

For the next part of the Design Process, you will be creating a Design Board to visually display your research/inspiration.  This will become the springboard for your own designs.  Read about this task below.

Task (Formative Grade):  AFTER your team has discussed and created your FINAL Costume list, begin looking for INSPIRATION for the look and feel you'd like to achieve with your Costume Design. (Note:  You MUST meet with the Director and Make-up/Hair Team prior to this step.)

  • The goal of this task is to research and find information and inspiring images and/or fabrics/patterns that will assist you in acquiring, designing, or creating  visually interesting  costumes a cohesive costume plot for our production.  

  • Each member of the costume team is responsible for researching and/or looking for inspiration for at least 3 costumes/costume pieces (there can be overlap between team members, or you can divide and conquer, but you MUST all be working in the same design concept and toward a cohesive overall "look")

  • Be sure your research is from credible sources, and also allow yourself to be inspired by the world around you. 

  • Creativity thrives in community, so be sure to collaborate with others and your team along the way.

  • As you research, be sure to "collect" your research/inspiration in a location that you can easily access when it's time to create your team's Design Board.

  • After research, discussions, and narrowing of ideas is complete, CREATE A (GROUP) COSTUME DESIGN BOARD

  • Note:  You will be graded on your individual contributions to your group's Design Board

collecting/CREATINg COSTUMES  

Once a designer has carefully read the script (to determine what's needed for design), and has both interpreted and researched important aspects of the script and design (which also involves design meetings with the director), (s)he can then BEGIN DESIGNING

In order to design anything, a new designer must become comfortable with failure, and leave plenty of time for it during the process.  All creative work involves multiple attempts before arriving at the best outcome.  If you "get it right" the first time, you're probably not involved in creative work, and should re-consider what you've created.  Failure is natural, accepted, and expected in this course.  However, waiting until the last minute to fail is not, so please watch your calendar closely and plan ahead!  Theatre is ALWAYS on a timeline.


Designing and creating anything that's original requires planning.  How this planning "looks" is up to you, but you need to make your designing/planning VISIBLE.  You will do this visible planning in your Process Journal, and it may include sketches of your designs, or even photos of prototypes or physical attempts at your design.  This documentation process could also include a catalog of tutorial videos on how you learned to compile or make your costume, interviews with experts, or documentation on mentoring you received in tool use or skill development in order to gather or create your costumes/costume pieces.  

Task (Formative Grade):  YOUR Process of Design

  • Track your process of design in your Process Journal, including any relevant research, images, sketches, pictures of prototypes, or further learning you did to create your prop (see above).  You must make your design process visible for this grade.  (See paragraph above.)

Task (SUMMATIVE Grade):  YOUR Completed Costumes/Costume Pieces (to be used in the show)


Read:  Costume Fitting Advice

  • Think about what to communicate with actors prior to YOUR fittings.

Watch:  A Day in the Life of a Dresser 

  • Who in OUR show may need dressers, and who will provide that assistance and how?

  • Create Dresser Lists (Costume Piece Lists, Checklists, Quick change stations if needed)

Watch:  Quick Changes (Mary Poppins)

  • Will there be any quick changes in OUR show?  How can you best prepare for, AND rehearse these changes?

Read/Print:  Quick Changes (includes steps with photos)

Watch:  Behind the Scenes at Disney's Aladdin

Journal Entry:  Calltime​ / Pre-Show Checklist

1. In professional theatre, as shown in this video, what are the (specific) tasks performed by YOUR (assigned) role prior to a show?  

2.  What are some of the things that YOU could put on YOUR Pre-Show checklist to be sure our show runs smoothly?  (Think of ALL the things necessary from the time you enter the black box until the show starts, including things like "Where do I put my personal belongings?" or "Where should this prop be pre-set?" or "What's the best place for this quick change to happen?" Etc.  Don't forget to include "sign in" on your checklist.)

Task (Formative Grade):  You will create YOUR Pre-Show Checklist with ALL tasks to consider prior to the show.  This MUST be well-thought out and completed/hung up PRIOR to the FIRST dress/tech rehearsal.  Type and print your checklist (with your name in large font at the top) and hang in a designated area backstage.  (Keep in mind that you will most likely need to add to this list from things you learn or are reminded of in dress/tech rehearsals.

dress/tech rehearsals:

Tech/Dress Deadline (Formative Grade):   Prior to Dress/Tech rehearsals, all costumes & costume pieces should be complete.  Artistic aspects, such as detail work (sewing on finishing touches, alterations, etc.) may still be on-going, but the actual costumes must be completed prior to the first Tech rehearsal. 

Note:  It is the job of the Costume team to be sure everyone is equipped with appropriate undergarments - if needed - as well as shoes and tights/socks.  Please be sure you've communicated these needs with actors far enough in advance if this responsibility falls to them.  Providing actors with pictures, and/or links of where to find the items, is most helpful.



GO DEEPER (optional):


(This list will be added to over time.  Let KP know if you find any helpful information that could be useful to future Advanced Acting students.)


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