The Costumer's Manifesto: Interview: From Brecht to Dada to DumpsterDiver Decor From Brecht to Dada to Dumpster Diver DecorThis interview with me originally appeared in in September 2004

> 1. What got you interested in costume design ?

Several things: A book series that my parents bought

for me when I was little by Time Life called "The

Great Ages of Man" It was far too advanced reading for

a tot, but the picture spread sections and the

captions fascinated me. The result was that before I

was in 6th grade I knew the difference between Baroque

and Rococo styles, what Art Nouveau and Benin Bronzes

were, and was therefore fascinated by any "period"

movies or TV that was out there. The next step was

Masterpiece Theatre, which started when I was in the

5th grade, and which I watched religiously. In High

School, however, the thing that finally pitched me

over the edge into costuming was Gilbert and Sullivan

operas, which I was introduced to then, which gave me

a burning desire to put to use all my historical

fascinations into a concrete form on stage. Live

theatre is more addictive than most drugs, and I've

been hooked ever since.

> 2. Any particular genre of design or period that you

> feel particularly

> attracted to?

Actually, despite all my early "period" leanings, what

I enjoy most doing now is more abstracted "wearable

art" kinds of designs. I had great fun last year

designing a show that was based on

computer/roleplaying games, where the designs were

based on comic book and RPG manual style images.


One of my favorite "period" show designs was The

Importance of Being Earnest (in 2000) where I dressed

everyone in 1890s style clothing, but it was all made

in transparent white to show the internal supports

like bustles, underwear, corsets, etc.


> 3. I assume teaching is as much a passion as is

> designing itself and

> wonder what most attracts you to teaching design as

> to solely practicing it?

The variety of the work, and the way that teaching

forces you to think more critically about what you are

doing. Because you have to be able to explain your

choices to students it forces you to think more about

how and why those decisions are made. Teaching in a

small college also means you are shifting gears a lot,

doing everything from teaching makeup, researching and

drawing, helping people borrow costumes, sorting,

sewing, dyeing, painting, lecturing on history and

messing about on the computer, often all in one day.

It really helps to keep you from being bored or

getting into a design "rut".

> 4. How and why did you set about putting together

> such an extensive

> costume design website and how have you managed to

> maintain it with your

> professional academic commitments?

Weird to say I had an idea about the "Manifesto" as it

later came to be called years before the internet came

into existence. I had been messing about at a very

early tourist information computer kiosk in San

Francisco in the mid 1980s, and I had my first chance

to see how a computer program could allow a person to

organize information and pictures in a non-linear

fashion, with links that could put one into multiple

directions, with pop up info on details. In short,

hyperlinking. The minute I saw it I knew that was the

form I'd always wanted to teach costume history in,

especially after I had seen James Burke's

"Connections" series on TV. That was the way I saw

history, as a series of bouncing connections between

periods that are not arranged neatly in a linear

format. The problem was I knew nothing about

computers, and I could see from this (at the time)

state of the art kiosk's limitations for number of

images and pages, that even if I had all the money and

computer knowledge to work making a similar system,

that the technology was not yet in place to do all

that I wanted to do.

Coming from Northern California though, I had faith

that the system that could do what I wanted would come

eventually, and it did. In 1996 I went to another

computer kiosk at the Marin County Fair that was set

up to surf the net (which had recently acquired the

capacity for images, sounds, animations, video etc.)

and I did my first search for costume information. I

knew at once that my ideal format had arrived, and

with an extra I had not thought of: I wouldn't need to

make all the information myself, I could also link to

other people's sites and show multiple people's views.

So, within a month I'd ordered a new custom computer

and a copy of Microsoft FrontPage, and within a week

of its arrival I'd put up my first (really awful)

page. I then pledged to myself to build a page a day

for the next year, which I did. The quality was poor,

but it gave me a big start on which I could build. As

a side note, I still build all my pages on FrontPage

2000, and don't know more than a tiny bit of html.

Interestingly around the same time all the theatre

faculty at UAF made big web sites, each of us working

on our own without originally consulting the others!

One feels so remote up here at times, and the desire

to go out of doors in winter is virtually nil, so the

WWW is the playground of the winter Alaskan.

Routinely in winter, we (who have afternoon-nocturnal

hours at work) are sending each other email back and

forth at 4am. So the situation we are in tends to

encourage it. And while there is little money at UAF

(we all build our sites on our home computers, and pay

out of pocket for outside hosting) we are taken

seriously for our online and other computer work in

the Tenure/Promotion process, which helps enormously

in keeping one from giving up.

The best thing about web building work is that it can

be fit in at any hour of the day or night whenever one

has time. While I'm working on a show I may not touch

my site for a month and a half, then during breaks or

summer, I may do nothing else.

> 5. What was your initial focus and intent with The

> Costumer's Manifesto?

Two things:

  1. 1 To make pages and find links for all eras of

costume history sufficient to allow a History of

Fashion and Dress course to be taught online. (this is


  1. 2 To replicate wherever possible the inside of my

head. I find as a teacher, that a lot of my ability

to entrance students is based on what a colorful, odd

being I am, so I'm trying to make the Manifesto

resemble me as if I'd turned my molecules into HTML.

This is why the Manifesto has weird personal sections

like X-Men fan fiction, accounts of mushrooming with

my cat, Dumpster Diver Decor, Poetry, etc. I'm trying

to avoid separating what I do as a designer and

historian from what I am as a person. Wherever

possible I avoid writing in the third person, and try

to keep even my technical how-to pages sounding like

the way I speak in class. (this is ongoing)

I began to suspect recently this latter goal is my

weird way of dealing with the idea of dying

eventually, as well as having no children, since when

I was diagnosed with cancer in January nearly the

first thing I was concerned about was how I might keep

web hosting for the Manifesto paid for if I died.

> 6. What have you learned from this remarkable solo

> expedition into

> putting costume design on the virtual map? Any

> particular incidences or

> experiences which stand out?

Since so much of the costume info on the web was built

by hobby costumers, not educators or professionals,

the sites that are out there tend to be NOT BORING.

People write with great passion, humor and enthusiasm,

which is not at all the usual thing in much published

academic writing. I find this makes writing for the

web both more fun and more challenging than the

traditional outlets for academic writers.

The web also means MUCH more exposure. Writing an

article for a scholarly publication means between

500-1000 folks will get a copy, and perhaps 50-100 of

those will read it. One almost never gets a response

from it beyond a "Nice article!" remark at a

convention. It is like sending your writing into a

black hole. The web on the other hand is like

broadcasting during halftime of the Superbowl. On a

SLOW Sunday in mid summer my site gets over 15,000

visitors, on a busy Wednesday during the school year

it runs to 50,000 with that jumping even higher in

October. One gets enthusiastic fan mail daily, letters

from people begging to have their sites linked, plus

LOTS of people asking for help (which often I can't

give), and 5000 spam a day. It is both great, and

really too much at times for a person as reclusive as


> 7. You have set up a remarkable historical archive.

> How difficult was

> this to accomplish?

> Well it took the majority of my Manifesto building

time from 1996-2000, but it would have taken more than

twice that time if I'd had to build it all myself from

scratch. Because hobby costumers had built such great

sites for Renaissance, Medieval, and Victorian dress,

I had very little that I needed to do in those areas

beyond making basic outline pages and linking to

outside sites. The big holes were the Baroque, 18th

Century, Regency and early 20th Century, and so I

concentrated my early efforts in my favorites of those

those areas: 18th & 20th. Happily I had written a

narration for a video project for teaching 18th

Century costume back in grad school, so I was able to

adapt that script into the text for the 18th century

sections. Then another hobby costumer in Germany also

started building her own great 18th Century site, so

between the both of us we got that area covered. Then

during this time two more huge sites popped up that

were themed with Baroque and Regency info. And smaller

sites appeared on Egyptian, Greek and Roman dress. So

eventually I just had to write up and get pictures for

basic outlines of each, then find links to places

where one could get more in-depth information outside.

If there was not this huge number of applicable

outside sites I'd still be working on setting up the

basics for teaching an online costume history class

ten years from now, as things are, much of my time is

spent hunting for links and inserting them into the

appropriate section of the site.

> 8. How have the challenges in your personal life

> health wise affected

> your relationship with design and teaching, on both

> the practical and

> philosophical levels?

> It directly motivated me to finally produce the big

Wearable Art Fashion Show


of my past work that I've always wanted to do. It

also motivated me to organize my classes better (so

they would be easier for someone to take over if I was

out sick) and to start filming my Stage Makeup

lecture/demos for both backup and eventual distance

ed. However, needing to do lots of work on

exercise/losing weight this summer, and time for

radiation therapy before that has tremendously cut

into my "free" time in which I usually build the

Manifesto. Normally over the summer I build 30-50

pages, this summer it's only 8, most of them pages

designed to allow the Manifesto to pay more of it's

own bills. (The financial drain of the illness has

made making the Manifesto cost effective the top

priority now). So I guess it has forced me to

concentrate my efforts on accomplishing just a few big

things, and letting other smaller stuff slide.

> 9. Would you like to recount in whatever detail

> makes you comfortable

> how this unfortunate cancer diagnosis has changed

> your life now.

> On the good side it has helped me prioritize

better, say "no" to time-wasting activities better,

and to exercise more. I was in a private funk of

indecision in the months leading up to my diagnosis,

and the dustbunnies of trivial worry melted away in

the face of certain knowledge. It quickly allowed me

to decide that A,B, and C were important and would get

my attention, and D,E,and F, were not, and they would

be ignored. This is how I managed to get the huge

killer fashion show "up" onstage in the middle of my

radiation therapy. I just decided that the Fashion

show, my radiation and exercise and showing up to

teach classes was important, and anything else was

"sorry, I'm too busy".

I now exercise daily, and have simultaneously dieted

away 25 of the at least 40 "spare" lbs I wish to lose

for health reasons. Exercise is no longer something

that hurts, though it can still make me dizzy.

My longtime biggest health problem has always been

that I get mild migraines nearly constantly, and

severe ones about once a month or so. Tamoxophen (my

daily anti-breast-cancer drug) significantly reduces

the number of my migraines and has no other side

effects (for me). The irony of this is that I've been

testing out dozens of different anti migraine drugs

since 1995, none of which have worked, all of which

had nasty side effects, and one of which was the cause

of my original weight gain. Exercise annoyingly tends

to make them worse (contrary to what most people

report) and my migraines were in their worst mode when

I first began exercising, before the Tamoxophen. So

getting breast cancer actually has helped me with my

big chronic health problem by finally finding the drug

I needed to make my headaches less severe and less


On the negative side, all that exercise sucks tons of

time and energy out of my days, and dieting leaves me

craving food constantly day and night, which makes

concentration difficult. While 95% of my medical

costs have been covered by my health plan, the

remainder, plus travel expenses related to surgery

were enough to finally put me in debt this year,

something I've avoided most of my adult life. This

means I have to concentrate more of my energy on

making money beyond my salary, which is also a

distraction. However it has motivated me to make a

promotion file in the interest of getting a raise,

which I've meant to do for a while and had been

putting off.

> 10. Is there particular message you would like to

> share with other

> patients and the general public about your

> experience with this disease?

Do get tested. Because I get yearly Mammos this was

caught so early (long before it would be a feelable

lump) that I didn't need chemo, have a 90% chance of

no further complications, still have both breasts, and

did not lose any work days beyond those I needed to go

to the lower 48 for surgery. Early testing doesn't

just save lives, it saves one tons of trouble.

One in 8 women get this and most survive it, so

freaking out and saying "why me?", blaming yourself or

others, or assuming it's the end of the world is NOT

really sensible. When you first hear you have cancer,

they won't be able to tell you if it is mild or severe

for several days, so don't rush to assume you will be

turning up your toes. Among other things, the less

you carry the attitude that you are doomed, the

longer and happier you will live regardless of the

severity of the cancer.

When you first hear about this you will get a fight or

flight response of a lot of adrenalin in your system.

Don't waste this energy beating yourself up, but use

it to think and prioritize what is most important to

you. Make lists of what you want to get done assuming

both worst case and best case scenarios. One of the

main things that is actually good about cancer is the

way people react to it: "Oh my GOD! Is there ANYTHING

I can do?" If you have a list of important stuff you

need to get done at work or home that might be

endangered by chemo or radiation, the second a person

blurts out that reaction you can delegate one of those

important work tasks to that person, and even the

flakiest person will guilt themselves into action to

get it done. This is how I quickly got my dean to

find me a free videographer for my makeup class (after

YEARS of being told there was no way to get one except

by my impoverished dept paying for one), and how I got

5 student directors, 2 designers, a stage manager an

50 models for my Fashion show. I have never had so

many willing minions running about putting tons of

effort into finding me what I needed, and all because

I had made a list and pounced on the "Is there

anything I can do?" phrase while it was hot. This is

a one-shot deal, but it can make it possible to do

great things even while you are dealing with cancer


> 11. It seems to be an experience that has given you

> more drive and

> determination than ever? What new horizons do you

> envisage for yourself

> and the website in the future?

> Yes, crisis situations tend to get me pleasantly

hyped up and give me extra energy. I think that is

why I do so well at first dress rehearsals, travel and

even street confrontations with minor thugs (!).

I do want to write a print book soon, one that is full

of what I call "costume porn": detailed close-up photos

of costumes looking lush and (to costumers) edible. I

was working on this before the cancer and alas this

was one important thing that had to go on hold.

As for the Manifesto, I want to make it a little

easier to navigate, and break some pages into smaller

ones so they load faster. I also want to add video

clips and VRML images next, for the makeup sections,

costume how-to sections, shows and history section.

Of course to do this I'll need to keep paying for my

own private high speed server, so right now working on

getting the Manifesto to generate more of its income

is the first thing that has to happen.

> 12. Do you have anything you wish to discuss or

> comment on in terms of

> current or recent changes in directions in costume

> design if there have

> been any?

> No.

Threepenny Opera

> 1. What were your initial sources of ideas and

> inspirations for these

> designs?

A book of drawings by George Groz entitled Ecce Homo

Groz was an illustrator who worked closely with Brecht

and Weill on their production of The Good Soldier

Schweik. When we decided to do 3PO in the era in

which it was written rather than the (Victorian) era

in which it is theoretically set, Groz was my first

choice for visuals. Later I found other German

illustrators like Otto Dix that I borrowed from as


> 2. I find the designs particularly captivating as

> they seem to be

> unusually close to the original concept and feel of

> the original Weil and

> Brecht production of 1928.Your sketches of the

> costume designs I find very

> evocative of the essence of the story it tells.

> Could you expand on what

> motivated these choices of design?

That is largely because I made an effort to actually

draw in the style of Groz and Dix, which means that

one loses less of the original intent, and keeps more

of the feel for the style as you are working in the

shop from the drawings. Actually I try to find or

make a specific drawing style that captures the feel

of a show for each set of "costume show" renderings

(some shows the design needs to recede, and so I don't

do this). It is actually the hardest part of

designing a show. You have to find a drawing style,

learn to draw in it, and then the costumes tend to

flow out from that pretty easily. The big "hump" to

get over is finding that style, and then keeping to

it, in many cases by literally making one's rendering

an adapted copy drawing from some famous illustrator.

Lysistrata I built directly upon the drawings by

Aubrey Beardsley, Don Juan came out of Callot, Magic

Flute was made by combining elements of Ancient

Egyptian wall paintings with photos of 1920s Hollywood

"biblical" epics.

Another thing that I think made my designs good for

3PO was the fact that the show is one I am very

familiar with and very fond of. I found while working

on the show that I knew the characters and themes of

the show better than the director did, so design

choices were rather easy and flowed from a mind that

had been fascinated with Weimar film and art since


> 3. How easy or difficult is it to realize these

> ideas into the actual

> clothes worn b the actors on stage in any given

> production or is this

> affected by the nature of each show?

It is very much the nature of each show. 3PO was

fairly easy because we had done Cabaret earlier, and I

had made a lot of the costumes from that show as

watered down versions of Groz and Dix images, and we

could reuse them and just make them nastier looking

with slight changes in the style of wearing and

makeup. I really enjoy making grotty sleazy

costumes out of bits and pieces, which is pretty much

the need for any production of 3PO, so it was actually

not too bad despite being a big cast/small budget


> 4. How much preparation time does it take from

> initial concept to the

> actual finishing touches of the garments and

> accessories

It varies depending on the show and the schedule.

Essentially you work within the allotted schedule

(between 1-2 months) and produce it out as well as can

be done within the allotted time. On shows where we

have an unusual amount of lead time like Les Liasons

Dangereuses, The Mikado or The Importance of Being

Earnest (3 months!) you just produce a better show, on

the other hand, last fall when my 3 student designers

flaked off of their 3 student shows 3 days before

first dress I and my fearless assistant Lorraine

Pettit did the three shows in 3 days. They won't be

appearing in my portfolio soon as great art, but they

were decent enough for me to put my name in the


> 5. Which brings me to ask, with accessories, are

> these also designed

> for each production?

Sometimes. It entirely depends on whether the

production can use existing stock, or whether it needs

(and we have time for) new bits to be made for it. So

for The Mikado we built EVERYTHING down to the fans

and underclothes, for 3PO 95% of all the costumes on

stage were adapted stock. In many cases the

adaptations however are the most interesting thing you

can do. It is so much more fun to paint and alter an

existing suit jacket than to try to make one from

scratch. Twiddling shoes, gloves and hats are also

satisfying while not being too labor intensive.

> 6. Have you ever had a public exhibition in Alaska

> of your work?

I did one for the occasion of the UAF accreditation

team visit in 2001 after the makers of the official

main Assessment Display room asked if I could exhibit

some costumes there. I sent stuff over, and they

quickly realized what I'd sent was more than the rest

of the campus had sent in total. So they put a little

in the official exhibit, then put more in the big

public room where the hearings were to take place, and

the rest we put in the Great Hall which serves as our

theatre lobby. For details see


On two other occasions I've had costumes on display at

the UAF Museum. Once in 1991 where there was a show

of designs both by myself and my predecessors at UAF,

and last year when two of my costumes (one for Earnest

and one for Liaisons) were included in the recent Made

in Alaska exhibit.

However, the real purpose of the recent fashion show

was to do precisely this, to exhibit the costumes on

live bodies and then videotape it for future showings

on the student TV station.

> 7. Any other comment you wish to add is most

> welcome.

> How I ended up with the name for The Costumer's

Manifesto is a bit funny. I've been a fan of The

Dadaist Manifesto by Tristan Tzara since grad school,

and was amused by the unintentional silliness of The

Futurist Manifesto by Marinetti. While I was living

in Russia for a year (1994-1995) I started writing

what I call the self-help advice book section of



ended up discussing with Russian friends how I wanted

to include in it some sort of artistic manifesto

similar to the above two works but was having trouble

writing it (in fact I only finally did so recently


One of my Russian friends said, "You mean like 'The

Costumer's Manifesto'? which all the Russians found

endlessly amusing, (for reasons of sounding like the

Communist Manifesto) so much so, that I kept thinking

I have GOT to find a use for this title. When I

began working on the web site I found that there were

two links lists that were already called The Costume

Site and The Costume Page respectively, so I went with

The Costumer's Manifesto since I was certain nobody

else would have that name.

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