Phil Lowe has designed costumes for the Plan-B productions of ANIMAL FARM, BLOCK 8, THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER (at Kingsbury Hall), WALLACE, AMERIGO, SHE WAS MY BROTHER and BORDERLANDS.
As a costume designer in Utah I spend a lot of my time working in musical theatre. It’s flashy, it’s fun, and it’s easily consumable by the masses. But as an educator, I am constantly reminding my students that the purpose of theater is not only to entertain, but also to educate and enlighten. This past summer I designed a production of SOUTH PACIFIC (at Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre). Though laced with themes of racial prejudice, most people remember it as a love story on an island set against the backdrop of WWII.
When I was first asked to write about my most memorable Plan-B costume design I was in the process of returning some of the costumes I had rented for that production. As I was re-stocking some ladies dresses in the 1940′s section I came across a dress I had used in designing BLOCK 8 for Plan-B.
As I glanced to the right I recognized a dress I used in a production of CABARET (at Egyptian Theatre Company)hanging down the row in the 1930′s section. It got me thinking that while there lots of stories that have been told about WWII both in Europe in the Pacific, the stories of the people in Japanese internment camps right here in America are few and far between.
That is the thing I love most about all of the productions that I have worked on at Plan-B. Telling stories that many times go untold. That is why I would have to say my most memorable experience was working on Julie Jensen’s SHE WAS MY BROTHER.
I remember reading the script for the first time and being mesmerized. I found the story so bold and impassioned, yet so respectful and quiet. I almost didn’t know where to start. Since all of the characters are based on historical figures I wanted to be as accurate as possible in visually portraying them on stage. I collected all the images I could find of these people and set to work.
Students would see me in my studio at Weber State University working on recreating Zuni jewelry and shoes or putting together turn-of-the-century men’s and women’s ensembles. They would ask what show I was working on, but the title SHE WAS MY BROTHER would only raise further questions. How does one “pitch” a production of this kind to inquisitive students? I told them it was a Victorian Era story about anthropologists, Native American culture and gender identity. The looks on their faces were priceless! Nevertheless their interests were piqued.
Throughout the entire process, I took every opportunity I had to tell people about the play. Those who actually got to see the production would immediately track me down to tell me about it. None of them really knew what to expect and all of them left entranced by what they had seen.
As I continue to work in this business I inevitably find myself back at a sewing machine working something feathered and sparkly…and don’t get me wrong, I love a good flashy musical! But when the work I do goes beyond entertainment and inspires thought…that’s what makes me feel like an artist. That is the thing that is most memorable.
Please click here for information on Plan-B’s 2011/12 season, featuring three world premieres by Utah playwrights (all with costumes designed by Phil Lowe)!