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Interview: Tony Winner Linda Cho talks about "Orphan of Zhao"

Daisuke Tsuji (far right) and members of the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s production of THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO, adapted by James Fenton, directed by Carey Perloff, running July 8 - August 3 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre
Daisuke Tsuji (far right) and members of the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s production of THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO, adapted by James Fenton, directed by Carey Perloff, running July 8 - August 3 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre
photo by Kevin Berne

When you go to a show are you the type of person who covets the amazing costume pieces? I know that I am, so when I had the chance to talk to 2014 Tony Award Winner Best Costume Design of a Musical for Linda Cho I was ecstatic. Not only because I was hoping that she would tell me how to get my hands on those amazing pieces in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" but because currently her work in "The Orphan of Zhao"can be seen at the La Jolla Playhouse playing through Sunday, August 3, 2014.

The art of costume design is something that is combination of art, engineering, research, and functionality –which seems like quite a undertaking. So I asked Linda to explain what her process is when she first comes into a project.
“ The general process on almost every show you know I get a script and I read it once through just casually without a lot of analysis and then I meet with a director, either with the other designers or just on my own. The director will tell me what the vision for the play is, what period, the actions, and the some of the characters they might know some casting, . I take my lead from their vision because…they're the ones to take everyone on the journey. After that I research whatever might be relevant to that project and start the sketches.”

“Personally, I just do sample sketches on computer paper so it’s not precious, my ideas are just quick and then I’ll show that to the director and in the second meeting and they will give me he/she will give me their notes upon on those designs. Then I’ll go back and paint them and do any revisions that are necessary. That’s what is given to the costume shops and from there I pick fabrics and materials and whatever needs to be purchased and together with the costume shops will build the show from there. There are usually 2 or 3 fittings with each actor and then there's dress rehearsal and that's when we see all the costumes on stage at the same time. I might make adjustments, to this design, or that costume; maybe the colors don’t work together or the silhouette needs to be tweaked. Normally, by the first or second preview I can be done.”

She makes it sound so easy doesn’t she?

So what did she draw inspiration from for the design of "The Orphan of Zhao"?
“This was wonderful because I got to do research and Carey (the director Carey Perloff) was interested in the Chang dynasty and the Ming dynasty. And there was this wonderful exhibit at the Met called 'Ink Art' and it was an exhibit of contemporary Chinese painters who use ink as their medium. So we drew a lot of inspiration for that as well. There was another exhibit at the Asian society I can’t remember (what it was called) where they did beautiful watercolor paintings that Carrie really responded to and wanted me to look at as well."

"It took a lot of research but she (Carey) wanted the overall feel of a contemporary dance piece- you know these actors are moving in and out of various characters. They all have sort of a basic uniform that they add and subtract pieces as needed, but it’s not purely Chinese, it’s sort of something I constructed and made up. But it was inspired by the Chinese art that I saw. So I took a step away from the research and created something that was unique and our own. “

Now that she’s won her Tony this year, what else does she have on her bucket list? Linda laughs “You know I don’t know, I... to be honest the one thing that I hoped for and after I won it I thought ‘All good now, I can do more shows – hopefully more Broadway shows.’ I mean really the work for me is the reward.”’

And about those covetable costumes from " Gentleman's Guide"? She did not reveal how I could get my hands on them but she does agree it’s a great time period for clothes. “It’s such a flattering period I think on just about everyone because you got of course you ‘ve got a corset and can squeeze them pretty much any shape.”

Go see how beautiful her work is at "The Orphan of Zhao" at the La Jolla Playhouse playing through Sunday, August 3, 2014. For more ticket information go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org

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