As a choreographer for Senior Production, we each get to work with a costume designer to help us create costumes for our piece. It is a great process, one I have never experienced before being a young choreographer. A couple of weeks ago, the seven choreographers got to meet with four professional costume designers: Justin Landry Hall, Kimberly Manning, Mary Kokie-McNaugher and Greer Coleman. We got to talk to each designer individually and they showed us their portfolios while we showed them inspirations for our choreography. From there, we were paired up with the designer that suited us best. I have been paired with Justin Landry Hall and it has been a privilege working with him. I wanted to get to know Justin a little better, knowing that we are going to be working a lot together in the coming months, and see how he functions as a designer and as an artist.
Justin Rapaport: Where are you from?
Justin Hall: I am originally from a very small town called Lisbon in Ohio.
JR: Where did you go for college and what did you study?
JH: When I turned 18, I moved to upstate New York. I did my undergraduate work at SUNY Albany. They had a very small theater program and that’s where I actually started out in costumes. When I started, I knew I was interested in theater and they offered a general theater degree, but I didn’t really know I was going to do costumes until I actually did it basically.
JR: How did you get into costume designing?
JH: It was a program where they made you do a little bit of everything, so you didn’t go in with a specific concentration. One of the classes freshmen year was Fundamentals of Design and there were a lot of paper projects where we would analyze scripts and from that analysis, design a set and draw a rendering of the set. Part of it was also designing costumes. That was the first time I have ever done that and it peaked interest in me. I didn’t know this was a thing. I didn’t know it existed. It kind of snowballed from there. I like the research, the drawing, the fabrics and it grew from there into more classes, more designing and turns into actual shows.
JR: What inspires you?
JH: I have a big tendency to do research. It’s very important, for me, to start with something visual. Usually something broad. I tend to look at lots of art, photography, and architecture. Sometimes, it’s even going to the fabric store and looking at a wall of fabric and being inspired by the colors, the textures, and the patterns of the fabric. But it’s very informative to the process because I always like to come back with a lot of research and ideas and that way, you can narrow it down and be more specific about what you’re going for, whether its appropriate for the piece, or whether it fits in your world, however you can be more specific for what you’re doing for that specific project.
JR: What are your favorite kinds of projects to do?
JH: I’m not just saying this, but I actually really enjoyed working on these dance pieces. This will be my fifth or sixth year doing senior production. I have always done two dances each year. Dance is a medium that gives you so much freedom to create. It is a very personal one-on-one collaboration where you’re coming up with an original idea that’s specific but at the same time it’s such a broad world. Nothing is limited. You can create anything from the more pedestrian look to the most abstract thing. So I think the freedom to start with noting and to create something of greater magnitude is pretty cool.
JR: How did you find out about Senior Production? How did you get involved with it?
JH: I was an intern in the costume shop at Juilliard from 2005-2006, but I actually met Luke in 2001. Then he became the assistant shop manager and he told me about the internship. So I applied and got in. That was my reintroduction to theater and costumes. I took a little break after undergrad. I worked on a Senior Production as an intern, so that was my first introduction to it. Then I left and started my career as a shopper and designer. A couple of years after that, I was asked to come back as a designer for Senior Production. Thankfully, it has worked out so far because they keep asking me to come back. It really is a great project. I enjoy working with choreographers and the possibilities are endless.
JR: So each year the designers are invited? They don’t have to apply to become a designer for Senior Production?
JH: I have been very lucky. That first year, I was invited to come and ever since then, they’ve asked me back. I guess I have proven something.
JR: And with that at invitation you are able to accept or decline?
JH: Of course. I had to say no last year because my schedule was too intense, but I will always say yes.
JR: What makes you want to come back every year to work for Senior Production?
JH: I would say two things. Having been an intern, I know how good they are and how hard they work in the shop. I know they are good people on a basic level. It is such a joy to work with them in the shop. I know what it’s like to be in their shoes and now I am the designer working with new interns. I am just grateful that I started there and have been able to make it this far. I want to work with these people and hopefully rub off some positive energy and let them know that ‘this can happen to you!’ That’s one half of it. The other half, now that I have been doing it so long, is seeing dancers I may have designed something for 2 years ago and seeing them grow up. I have seen the people that have been in the pieces and then I see them as choreographers down the road. It’s very great to see those students as a dancer, as a choreographer and be able to collaborate with these young minds, because for them, it could be their first time working with a costume designer like myself and it’s
just really great to provide that piece of inspiration to help them really execute what they are trying to say.
JR: What are your future goals or aspirations?
JH: I have kind of transitioned into a different career recently. I would like to still have a costume career. It’s nice right to be able to balance a couple different things, passion wise. Hopefully it might not be a full time thing necessarily, but I think I would be happy to have the best of both worlds, even if that means smaller projects. I think to have that creative side keep working in any kind of way would be important to me.
So far, it has been a great collaborative experience working with him. We meet every week at Juilliard to share and discuss our ideas for the piece and what we want the dancers to look like on stage. Together, we have found images from the Internet, such as Google and Pinterest that are helping inspire his design. I never would have imagined finding so many inspirational images from the Internet to use as a home base for my costumes. I am excited to see the final product.
Written by: Justin Rapaport