The other day, students from a small town southwest of St. Paul, surrounded by some of Minnesota’s most productive farmland, streamed into Park Square Theatre for their first live professional theatre experience. They’d travelled 130 miles in over two hours one way, dressed up for the special occasion and were absolutely thrilled to be here.
Upon discovering, in the post-show discussion, that the town has no formal theatre opportunities beyond community summer stock, cast members encouraged them to create their own projects and, just as importantly, try on as many roles as possible, both in front of and behind the stage.
It was against this backdrop that I received answers from Sarah Bahr, the costume designer for Park Square’s production of Macbeth from March 17 to April 9, regarding her background in design. At this moment, we introduce Sarah herself, perchance to inspire explorers into someday realizing their own dreams.
The following is an excerpt from our interview:
Sarah, how did you come to become a costume designer? What was your journey to hone in on that as your passion?
I grew up in rural Minnesota, which started my journey as an artist. My mother taught me to sew, my father taught me to work with my hands and my grandmothers taught me to paint. I was always creating and using my imagination, though I didn’t fully understand I could choose a career in the arts until I was in high school.
I attended the University of Minnesota Duluth to study costume design. I was drawn to the field because of my love for fabric, sewing, sculpting, defining characters through clothes and the collaborative nature of theater.
After graduation, I worked as a stitcher for the Minnesota Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Guthrie Theater but soon realized I needed a big change. I moved to New York City to pursue a career in building costumes. After working at one of the many Broadway costume houses, I noticed how removed I was from the collaborative theater-making process and how I liked theater creation more than just making costumes.
My next opportunity came from NYU’s TISCH Graduate Costume Shop, where I worked for the next five years, working with the graduate costume students, building costumes, supervising wardrobe, coordinating craft projects and executing wigs and specialized makeup. On the side, I pursued a MA in Studio Art from NYU and studied fiber arts and sculpture in Venice, Italy, during my summers off.
True to form, I was ready for another change, and Minnesota called me back home. After assisting many seasoned designers at the Minnesota Opera and the Guthrie Theater, I knew my next step would be to hone my skills as a designer and pursue a freelance career. I studied under Mathew Lefebvre at the University of Minnesota and received my MFA in Design and Technical Theater.
The paths my life has taken me prepared me to work as a creative, a maker and a problem solver. I am grateful for the variety of opportunities I’ve had to get me to this point of my career.
What is your favorite part in the costume design process and why?
I love researching. I look for images as inspiration during all steps of my design and production process. I love how unexpected images I find on Pinterest, in books or my daily life can influence a world I am creating on stage. Research images are my favorite tool to use when discussing a project with my director, design team and actors; they help define what is in my head before I start sketching my designs.
Is there something that you are working on after Macbeth?
I am designing set and costumes for a new comedy, Lone Star Spirits, at the Jungle Theater. I am also designing costumes for One Man Two Guvnors at Yellow Tree Theater as well as the world premiere of The Boy and Robin Hood at Trademark Theater.
As you shall see on stage, Sarah’s costumes for Macbeth will be stunningly thought-provoking to match all other aspects of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. You can also read more about Sarah Bahr’s work in an upcoming post, “Designing Costumes for the Brutal Period.”