Interview with Costume Designer Dodi Rose Zooropa

As you all know from visiting this blog about our upcoming production of Frankenstein, we are featuring interviews with members of our design team.  This week, we hear from Dodi Rose Zooropa, our costume designer.  Dodi and I have worked on several projects together and I really love everything she brings to productions.  So, lets hear from Dodi:

Steve:  How long have you been a costume designer and how long have you worked for BLT?

Dodi:  I started doing theater design in high school, but before that I drew a lot as a kid and almost always it was of people and clothes. I attended Cornish College of the Arts (grad of 2003) where I studied both costume and scenic design. However costume design was always what I was most adept at. I started working for BLT for the show A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was about a year and a half ago. Frankenstein will be my 7th show with BLT.

Steve:  How much research have you done and how much more do you have to do still?

Dodi:  This show follows a pretty standard course of research for me. I start with a general understanding of the history of the time period plus the history of the play. Then I move on to research of clothing of the era. This show has a few challenges in the research department. First its a new script so I have to go back to the source material. I started my research with Mary Shelley. A lot of my research was mostly biographical and criticism. When all was said and done my research about her left me a strong connection to theme of birth, childbearing and infancy. Like so many women of her era Shelley had many miscarriages and complicated pregnancies. From my research I had a clear feeling of how she struggled with this and in a sense feared creating new life. This is definitely my way into understanding the creature. The timing of this show is perfect for me given that my first baby will be born this winter. Shelley’s experiences plus the store and my own new adventure really helped me understand the vulnerability of the creature and how traumatic his infancy is.

As far as the research of the actual costuming this can be a hard era to research. The larger fashion movement the story involves runs from about 1800 to 1840. But there is a lot of style in there that is just not appropriate for this show. I choose to narrow my search to about 1815 to 1825 due to its much crisper and subdued style. As it happens the story was written in that era which makes things cohesive. Once I nail down the era I just start looking. The Seattle Public Library is always my best resource. For this show I spent more energy researching men’s clothing than I would other shows. This is still an era when men were setting the fashion trends. I also really needed to get a grasp on Victor. The women of this show are a little easier but I spent a lot of time looking at fabric patterns and details for them. Because women’s clothing of this era is so simple its really the details that can make a costume special.

By the time I start sketching most of my basic research is done. By that point I usually have one or two source images that speak to me of a character and I sit with the books around me and start sketching. However sketching creates a new set of research needs – construction research. For eras like this you really can’t go to a basic fabric store and buy a ready made pattern. So when I am sketching I spend a good amount of time mentally constructing garments in my head, researching pattern sources or consulting my favorite patterning books. This is where I am at now. That and the make-up research for the creature but that’s a whole different story.

Steve:  What do you see is the biggest challenge facing you in designing costumes for Frankenstein?

Dodi:  By far the biggest challenge of this show is the creature. He needs to be frightening and horrific; but because it is his story, he also needs to be incredibly vulnerable. I think mentally approaching the character as an infant helps me see a way into the design. He is also a big challenge due to the make-up. I am not a make-up artist so it will be a stretch of my talents to come up with a design for that. A challenge but an exciting one.

A lesser but important challenge to this show is one I deal with all the time – resources. There is always too little time, money and volunteers in fringe theater. This show will be mostly constructed – which means I will be making most of the costumes you see. When you have to build a show so completely there is always a lack of resources. But somehow I always manage. I suspect its part of the fun for me.

Steve:  What else would you like audiences to know about your process?

Dodi:  Most of the time people think costuming is playing barbie dolls with actors. Sometimes it feels that way. But, especially with a show like this, I spend a lot of time thinking about the themes of the show and who these people are. As a costumer you don’t just clothe people. You also help define who these people are for an audience. Often I think about what character’s entire wardrobe looks like not just what you see on stage. Its always a critical part of my process to really try and understand who the characters are. This is where the performers are crucial to my process. I learn so much from watching actors create a character. Theater really is a collaborative art form and shows like this one can be the height of collaboration.

Steve:  Thanks Dodi, I’ll be looking forward to seeing more about the costumes soon.

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