100 Creatives

Kathleen Trott on Running Arizona Opera's Costume Shop

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 5. Kathleen Trott.

"I can’t remember a time when we weren’t going to see ballets, concerts, or plays," Kathleen Trott says, reflecting on her childhood. "My mother loves the arts, and it was very important to her that her children understand the value of them, too."

That meant art classes, attending performances, and balancing those with watching cinematic musical classics such as Singin' in the Rain, Holiday Inn, The Sound of Music, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

It was no surprise, then, that she caught the "bug." Around junior high, Trott started performing in musicals at local colleges. By the time she was a junior in high school, her schedule was packed with extracurriculars in the arts: band, choir, and theater. 

Soon though, Trott found that she favored being behind the scenes as opposed to being onstage. And that led her to studying theater at Southern Oregon University, where she focused on theater costume construction and design. She went on to work with Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and Southern Oregon University.

Now 35 and based in Chandler, Trott is one of the resident costume designers for Arizona Opera. This year marks her fourth season as shop manager of the Opera's Marlu Allan and Scott Stallard Costume Shop. 

"The thing that I really love about costuming," she says, "is that I get to use lots of different skills, including research, an eye for color, understanding people and organization, and a knowledge and love of history, and combine them with lots of other artists to create something that is vibrant, moving, and greater than anything I could have created by myself."

Since joining Arizona Opera, Trott has designed costumes for its productions of Don Giovanni and Arizona Lady. Her upcoming design projects include La Boheme for Hawaii Opera Theatre, the February 2017 world premiere of Riders of the Purple Sage for Arizona Opera, and Don Pasquale in March 2017 for Atlanta Opera.

The costuming process is a lengthy one, typically beginning at least a year in advance, when the opera director and costume designer meet to discuss the show's setting, theme, and characters, as well as said characters' motivations and choices. Then comes research, fabric and color selection, patterns, sample garments, and fittings. 

As the fabrics fall to the designer, Trott says she often drives to Los Angeles' garment district to make purchases. Then mockups are constructed, costumes are tried on, and the almost-final product is made. There's one last fitting before dress rehearsal, and then comes opening night. 

"Regardless of the style of theater you are going to see," she explains, "a costumer designer’s job is to coordinate with all of the other aspects of theater — lights, sound, set, direction, et cetera — to bring to life and tell the story of an imaginary world and its characters through clothing, while allowing the performing artists to feel secure and supported."

And that's precisely what Trott plans to do during Arizona Opera's 2016-17 season, whose stories span continents. She says, "From garish stepsisters to kimonos to cowboys, this season offers the costume shop many great opportunities to create some amazing costumes."

My husband, two daughters and I moved to the Phoenix Valley in September 2013, when Arizona Opera offered me the position of costume shop manager.

I work in theater because I love collaborative art. I really like working with other artists and scholars to make fictional characters realistically come to life on stage. Unlike other mediums, theater isn’t just about working individually and making a nice drawing on paper or a lovely painting; my actual “art” isn’t fully realized until lots of other people have collaborated with me to interpret my drawings and research to create paper patterns and then cut and stitch the actual costumes together. And even after all of the hours that go into building the costume pieces themselves, they don’t come fully to life until they are being worn by performers on stage, in the world that the other artists in my field have created with sets, lights, and sound.

I am most productive when my house is clean and I have schedules, due dates, and lots of research and inspiration. I like working with lots of space to spread out and some music on in the background.

I don’t really have an inspiration wall, but for each show I design, I do a lot of research. I really like research and character analysis, so I have lots of images, paintings, photos, color palettes, and books about clothing and art from the time period each show is set in.

I’ve learned the most from the other people I have worked with over the years; it is wonderful that no matter how many shows I work on or how many people I work with, there is always something new to learn, to experience, and to create.

Good costume designs always support the context of the play/opera/musical. The costumes are there to help the performers create fully realized characters and help tell the story that the playwright/composer envisioned. Unless the costumes support the world that has been created in the actual piece of literature that is the play/opera/musical, it isn’t a successful costume design, no matter how beautiful the individual costumes may be.

Between my family and my work I unfortunately don’t spend very much time in the “Phoenix creative scene,” but I do feel that Phoenix is lucky to have a pretty large art community.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
43. Monique Sandoval
42. Nayon Iovino
41. Daniel Davisson
40. Andrew King
39. Michelle Moyer
38. Jimmy Nguyen
37. Tiffany Lopez
36. Kristin Bauer
35. Donna Isaac
34. Douglas Miles
33. Sierra Joy
32. Francisco Flores
31. Amy Robinson
30. Julio Cesar Morales
29. Duane Daniels
28. Kelsey Pinckney
27. Ben Smith
26. Rembrandt Quiballo
25. Corinne Geertsen
24. Tess Mosko Scherer
23. Slawomir Wozniak
22. Elly Finzer
21. Josh Brizuela
20. Amy K. Nichols
19. Angela Johnson
18. Grant Vetter
17. Michelle and Melanie Craven
16. Erick Biez
15. Leah Marche
14. Lisa Von Hoffner
13. Amada Cruz
12. Amber Robins
11. Xandriss
10. Steven Tepper
9. Bentley Calverley
8. Lisa Olson
7. Eric Torres
6. Genevieve Rice 
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski