USITT: These Shining Lives Costume Design
by Britteny Johnson
From March 7 through March 11, six Theatre Simpson students attended the United States Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT) Convention. These were days of workshops covering lighting design, sound design, costume design, hair and makeup design, ways to become more transgender-friendly, new ways to teach design at schools, and so much more. On the Thursday of the convention, the Expo Floor opened up; this was a place where new technologies could be showcased, companies could promote their products andgive people a sample of new make up, and people could just have fun learning about theatre technologies. On the Expo Floor, Grad school also had stands; this gave students like me and some other Theatre Simpson students the opportunity to market ourselves to these schools and for them to explain what their program has to offer us. Overall, this conference was fun, educational, and a great networking opportunity.
The Thursday of the convention, I presented my work on These Shining Lives costumes in a poster session where people could walk around and ask us questions about our work. For These Shining Lives, I had the challenges of making the show appear to span nine years without the ability to change the girls’ costumes, having eight male characters with two male actors, and — the most difficult challenge of them all — making the costumes NOT glow under black light.
My solutions for the first two challenges were the easier of the three. For the appearance of a time change, I was able to put two of the women in 1920’s attire and two of the women in 1930’s attire to look as though they are making the transition into another decade. I strategically placed the two more youthful sounding and acting women in the 1930’s attire, and wife and the mother in the 1920’s attire. In my mind, it made sense that the two more youthful women would be willing to spend money on the latest trends, while the wife and mother would take longer to transition for a desire to provide for their families.
For the challenge of the eight male characters with the two male actors, I did a lot of subtle changes in costume. For example, Simpson senior Brandon Herring had one full three-piece suit that was never worn all together. For one character he was in the jacket, the pants, a white shirt, and a black tie, for another he would be in the black pants, the white shirt, suspenders, and a bright green tie. With the changing of the pieces, and the different colored ties, my hope was that the audience would get a sense of difference in character. Thankfully, the hair and makeup designer Brianna Stoever was able to help with the changing of appearance.
For my final challenge, trying to make sure that the costumes would not glow under a black light. The hair and makeup designer needed to make the girls glow during the show at specific points. Her solution was to use different makeups for their hair, face, palms, and backs of hands. All of the makeup options needed black light to work to the best of their ability. The problem for me is that we didn’t want it to look like we just put black light on everything.
The mission was set, I did a lot of research into what kinds of detergents would take out fluoride on clothing, but was met with very little positive feedback. My advisor, Jess Guthrie, was sending emails to chemistry professors on campus and was sent to Adam Brustkern.
Weirdly enough, it wasn’t his work in chemistry, but his hobby of hunting that helped us. He suggested to us a product called U-V Killer. Deer can see U-V rays, so if camo clothing has been washing with optical brighteners and fluoride dense waters deer will be able to spot the hunter. U-V Killer takes out the brighteners and prevents the clothing from glowing. The product works miracles and our problem was solved.
At USITT, people were extremely interested in hearing about the U-V Killer and how it worked, if it was safe, and where they could buy it. It was really nice to be able to offer this information to other people who might need to prevent glowing in the future.