Costuming as an art form: enlivening characters and delighting audiences

By Tara Fort

Prescott Center for the Arts Costumer Jeannen Calvin knows that what one might consider art may not seem like art to someone else. “Costuming is one of those art forms that is not considered until the opportunity comes along to examine a piece, a show or a movie. Then we are moved by the visual impact of costume or makeup that inspires terror, confidence or mystery!”

Director Jean Lippincott agrees that makeup and costuming are the art elements that complete a character, and that the perfect combination can accelerate an actor’s performance. She added, “The actors frequently wear costumes that can be torn or dirtied for rehearsal because it makes them feel more in character.”

Adds Jeannen, “I want my actors to feel perfectly transformed when one of my costumes is set—like a ‘yes’ moment!  I feel there’s nothing so delightful in shows as when the costume and makeup transform the audience and perform magic onstage before your very eyes.”

Jean started her stage career as an actress. She found it necessary to learn how to apply stage makeup and eventually taught actors and others how to apply makeup for PCA over the years. Although she now channels her energies toward directing, Lippincott keeps her feet wet in the makeup arena by purchasing the supplies needed for the many PCA performances.

“Although we keep basic items in stock, one specialty item that belongs under makeup’s purview is blood.  I love to have blood in a show if it fits!  When I directed Dracula, we had blood everywhere–the audience was delighted!”

Marrying the needs of a director to the needs of those involved with costuming and makeup presents challenges with many gratifying outcomes. Jeannen said, “As a costumer, it’s an art to filter the parameters of a show’s need through how the director envisions the cast and adding that personal touch that completes the look.”

Jean added, “The challenges of makeup can be many, and the filters and heat of the lights affect the way makeup looks on stage.  What looks gaudy and overly made up backstage looks natural to the audience viewing from afar.”

With PCA back under the lights and providing much-needed entertainment to the community via a new format and seating, audiences will have plenty of opportunities to witness the talents of both Jeannen and Jean through their characters.  And, for those who would like to volunteer in costuming and markup, there are many ways to support through designing shows, sewing and building costumes, and dressing characters.

“If someone has no experience with stage makeup,” Jean said, “I provide a short tutorial and add that person as an assistant makeup artist.”

To find out more about PCA and how to volunteer, visit: