For Romeo and Juliet, she designed and created everything from scratch for this spectacular grand opera with an equally grand cast. We talked to her about the joys and challenges of the job.
The Atlanta Opera: Who or what influenced you to get into costume design?
Joanna Schmink: Growing up, my parents involved all of my siblings in the arts (orchestra, choir, dance, theatre) not as a potential career choice but to enlighten us on the importance of art in all forms in our daily lives. I think it was a friend in college that convinced me to take an internship in the university costume shop. I changed majors a semester later from engineering to costume design and have her to thank or blame.
AO: Who is your favorite artist or designer, living or dead?
JS: Léon Samoilovitch Bakst (1866-1924). He was a Russian painter, set, and costume designer known for his rich, exotic use of color, pattern, and texture. His work for Diaghilev Ballet Russes is some of his best work - a visual kaleidoscope of color brought to life on stage. Bakst’s brilliant control of color and line spilled over into fashion and interior design giving a new richness and looser flow to the drab look of the time.
AO: Are there any misconceptions about costume designers that you’d like to clear up?
JS: I don't think people quite understand what costume designers do on the job. For starters, it’s not as glamorous as people would like to think. It’s a lot of long hours and hard work. You have to love research, working with fabric, collaborating with other creative people such as designers, directors, producers, and performers. The payoff is definitely not notoriety, but rather the satisfaction of creating part of a wonderful theatrical experience.
AO: What does a typical day look like for you?
JS: There are no typical days, thank goodness. There are some non-negotiables that I always keep on the early morning daily roster like running, biking, or swimming. I like to start every day off on an active foot to help keep me in a great frame of mind and provide an additional bump of energy. There is nothing like a sun rise to inspire creativity. A work day is usually a 7:30 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. start with a 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. finish. All kinds of things could occupy a work day from organizational office work and fabric shopping to costume fittings and production meetings. There is a mix of practical and creative aspects to every day.
AO: What kind of preparation went into the period costumes for Romeo and Juliet?
JS: A large part of the development and preparation for this production is in research and creative problem solving. The body of the show is being set in the 1830’s, historically noted as part of “The Romantic Era” (1820’s-1840’s), or early Victorian. It is complemented by aspects and costume elements of the Elizabethan Era (1550’s-1600’s) which works well in the presentation of a Shakespearean story line. The challenge is to make the periods connect seamlessly so the costumes enhance the storytelling.
AO: Were there specific challenges to creating these costumes for such a large cast?
JS: This production is incorporating brand new built costumes, pre-existing costume stock, and rented costumes. It’s challenging to have all of these elements in place and create a cohesive design that will present a beautiful visual for the audience. The work involved to move the design forward takes additional creative thought and design flexibility so the best choices are made.
AO: Are there any productions (opera or other) for which you have always wanted to design the costumes?
JS: I would love to design a Die Fledermaus or a Tristan und Isolde. Both have great opera design elements that would challenge me as a designer. I would love to do research on both shows and have a great adventure seeing them come to life. They both have grand opera story appeal with love, drama, and suspense well crafted into their plots.
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