Christianne Myers Costume Design
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Christianne Myers is a freelance costume designer whose work spans film, theatre, and opera. Her recent productions include Redwood Curtain at The Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Michigan, and Julius Caesar at The Florentine Opera Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While living and working in New York City for 14 years prior, Christianne designed the Obie award-winning productions of Music-Theatre Group’s Running Man and Blue Light Theatre Company’s production of Dare Clubb’s Oedipus, starring Frances McDormand and Billy Crudup. In addition to her design of more than 15 productions at The Juilliard School, Christianne has worked with the Vermont Stage Company, Lincoln Center Institute, Clarence Brown Theatre, and Syracuse Stage, among others. She serves as Assistant Professor of Theatre and Drama at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, where she has designed more than 30 shows in the past 12 years. Christianne resides in Ann Arbor with her husband and daughter.
Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Destination: large, diverse cities
Most treasured possession: A stack of letters my mother wrote to my grandmother while she was pregnant with me; they are irreplaceable.
How did you get your start with costume design?
I was a backstage baby — my mom was a professional dancer and my dad a singer. At a young age, I was exposed to the performing arts and given a first-hand understanding of the dedication, rehearsal process, training, practice, and collaboration that goes into it. Simultaneously, I had [and still do, of course] a great passion for the visual arts — I loved to draw and go to museums, and had great mentors and teachers who encouraged me. Theatrical design is a natural combination of the two.
Why does this form of artistic expression suit you?
I decided on costume design in college. It satisfies the creative and artistic side of me, along with the part of me that likes order and organization. I’m a little OCD, and that serves me well with my job. I also like collaborating directly with the performers, which is not something you get to do in the other design disciplines.
Do you have a particular approach as you begin the design of a production?
My process varies with each production. Generally speaking, I begin by reading the script [or listening to the opera or music] a few times and generating an initial act and scene breakdown chart — culling the script for every costume clue. Then, I typically meet with the director [or choreographer] and we pass ideas back and forth. A lot has to do with the production timeline and the location of the team.
How do you go about researching a character and/or time period?
It can be anything from logistical, historical costume references and visceral reactions to color palettes and character metaphors [for example, if the ingénue feels like a cupcake, I’ll go look at pastries and pink icing].
When do you begin to sketch out your ideas?
I quickly brainstorm ideas by putting pencil to paper. At this point in my mind I’ve developed design perimeters defined by the world we are creating. If the show is not period specific and we’re making it up, this part is crucial. Then I move on to a clean line drawing — this is when I begin to draft the individual looks. I’ve recently started doing quick color studies in marker on small photocopies of my sketches. It’s a great way for the production team to preview the stage picture without investing hours in the painted finals. Then, I paint the final sketches, or “renderings.”
I also work with the costume shop manager to make sure we are on target with the budget. At this point, I’ve generated a pieces list for each look in the show that includes everything from the underwear to wedding bands to gloves. If there’s costume stock to pull from, we do so at this point. There is never enough money in the budget, so we reuse and thrift shop as much as possible. Depending on the scope of the show, I’m usually scouting for fabrics at this point.
I’ve finally accepted that throughout the process, I need some procrastination time as well, while the show simmers in the back of my brain.
How would you describe your studio/workspace?
The space has lots of books and two drawing tables. When I’m in the middle of drawing and painting, there are piles everywhere — research, different iterations of the design, art supplies, and fabric swatches.
From start to finish, how long does it typically take to design costumes for a production?
It can range from 3 months to 15 months, depending on the scope of the show and cast size.
When do you come to the end of the process?
The design is not final until the show opens. I work with shop staff to acquire all materials, garments, and pieces. Each performer has at least one fitting [two or three if something is built for them]. Dress rehearsals follow — the show is run in costume for staging and technical purposes several times before performing in front of an audience. Finally, it’s opening night. Then, I fall over.
Is there a production or two that stand out as most memorable?
Since moving to Michigan, Handel’s Julius Caesar at the Florentine Opera, directed by Eric Einhorn. This one was all about collaboration. I also have a bee in my bonnet to prove one can have an inventive and fresh approach to opera without spending a million dollars. And, Leaving Iowa, my first show at The Purple Rose, which has since become an artistic home for me.
Where do you find your inspiration?
For each show, you have to know and honor the reason why you’re doing it. ”The paycheck” is an acceptable answer. But it’s a lot more rewarding when the answer is, “I’ve always wanted to do this piece,” or, “I’ll have the opportunity to work with so and so,” or, “I’ll have a chance to work at this theatre.” I also find inspiration in cultivating a collaborative artistic expression that challenges and entertains a 21st century audience. I’m also greatly inspired by the students I work with at U-M.
Who would you like to thank, and for what?
It’s an easy question, but a long answer. My family. I would not be able to do what I do without the support of my husband, the patience of my daughter, and the early encouragement of my parents. My teachers, including: Laura Green, my neighbor growing up and first art teacher; Evan Gifford, my middle school art teacher; Rob Roberson, my upper school art teacher; Hilda Imhoff, my upper school drama teacher; and Chris Thomas, my undergraduate mentor and teacher. And, of course, my teachers at NYU.
What is your best advice to aspiring costume designers?
Fail, fail often, and learn from failure. I always tell my students to, “Hurry up and make mistakes.” Also, designing is about making decisions — some are conscious, specific decisions, and some less so. Oh, and there is no such thing as drawing too much. Observe life, the people in it, and learn to draw them. “Costume designers put real clothes on fake people.”