Costume Fun Times with Teenagers!

Earlier this month, I did a costume design workshop with students at the Academy for Performing Arts in Scotch Plains, NJ. It is a public charter school for kids in Union County and they are a fantastic bunch! I worked with Sophomore and Junior theater students.

Classes are an hour and twenty minutes; I had to explain the design process and do an activity that could be quickly understood. Given that no one wants to hear someone blabbing at them for too long, especially teenagers who won't be tested on this anyway, I prepared a short talk about what a costume designer does, followed by a design project. The kids jumped right in and created some fun things!

First, I explained what a costume designer does and the tool that one uses. I showed them examples of paperwork, one of my show bibles, and examples of costume sketches. Then I went through the "designer's toolbox" explaining how costume designers use color, shape, and texture to define a character's age, status, time period, environment, and personality. I gave lots of examples and showed some sketches, talking about all those choices and explaining why research is important to help make those choices. We then moved on to the activity.

Students sketching from their research.

In groups of 3 or 4, the students picked 3 envelopes, one from each of three piles labeled "the play", "period", and "inspiration." The plays chosen were ones they had studied in class, the envelopes containing four character descriptions. Period had a time period in which to set the play, which then pointed them to a folder of research I provided. Finally, the inspiration was an image that could inspire color choices and mood, a way to provide the "director's concept" for the design. They had 30 minutes to design one costume for each of the 4 characters using the research provided and the inspiration image to help define mood and color choices.

Designed to be random, the combinations were wacky and fun! Initially they all hesitated, searching for the "right" answer, but once they felt confident they jumped right in and made some fantastic choices. 

I made some observations over the four classes that I will share. First of all, give them croquis. Find ones with normal body proportions or make your own. I learned this from the college course I teach (an intro to costumes for dance majors). One of the things that holds new students back is a fear of drawing. If they choose costume design as a study path later they will learn to draw; right now we're trying to show them design is fun and this is one tool that will help them move forward quickly. 

Second, be wary of the inspiration image. I found that it was better if there were no words, especially if it's an advertisement for a brand they recognize. They won't be able to get past the brand as they have been conditioned by media since birth. 

Given all this, it was a very successful workshop! I hope I inspired some students to consider a career in design or tech! Some pictures are below, but visit my Facebook Page for a compete album.

Goth, 1930s Medea

16th Century The Importance of Being Ernest 

Video game inspired 1890s Rimmers of Eldritch 

1930s Medea


Popular Posts