Thursday, October 8, 2015

Early Interest in Drawing Led to Costume Design Work

Maureen Sebastian and Raymond Lee in Vietgone.
It started simply for Anthony Tran: as a kid, he loved to draw and started copying designs that he saw in Disney films. Then, he started creating his own versions of the film characters. On a middle school visit to see a costume exhibit in Los Angeles from The Lord of the Rings, things finally clicked for him: “I discovered that costume design could be an occupation!”

His current costume design work at South Coast Repertory is for the world premiere of Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone.

We asked him about his early influences as a designer and how he approached the concepts for Vietgone.

Raymond Lee and Jon Hoche in Vietgone.
Who are your mentors? 
Donna Fritsche, resident costume designer of the Long Beach Playhouse, was a huge mentor to me and is a great friend today. She really took me under her wing and taught me to sew, gave me a show to design there and allowed me to pillage from their costume stock whenever I needed it. Film costume designer, historian and author-extraordinaire Deborah Landis also was amazing to me. I learned a lot about the business side of the industry from her.

How did you get introduced to SCR?
After college, I sent my resume to SCR’s Costume Shop and I worked there in a few different times in various capacities, in-between designing films and other theater projects.

Tell us about the role that costumes play in theatre?
Costumes have so many roles in theatre!  They can set the tone or mood, show a time period and can help the actors "feel the character" physically. In those ways, they definitely support the story by helping to visually communicate what's in the script.

How do you describe your work?
I'd like to think my work is both bold and unexpected.  I'm a big fan of the unusual and unique.

Let’s talk about the costumes you’ve developed for Vietgone. How did go about researching and developing the concepts?
For Vietgone, I started by the looking at photos of actual Vietnamese refugees in camps like Camp Pendleton and Fort Chaffee, where much of the story takes place. Combing through all that research, I found various people in those photos seemed to be kindred spirits to our characters and that became the springboard for each one's individual style. Of course, there also was my research into general clothing of the '70s, but I always prefer photography versus fashion research since there's a higher degree of authenticity and naturalism. There are roughly two parts to the design of this show: trying to be authentic, as much as possible, to the clothing worn by the Vietnamese characters, whose lives are the focus of the story; and getting the chance to have some fun and create much broader characters with the Americans that they encounter, like a Hippie couple and a military captain inspired by Top Gun.  With five actors portraying 20-some characters, it then became about plotting the various quick change components and the practical aspects of the clothing.

Samantha Quan and Raymond Lee in Vietgone.
What have you come to love most about ‘70s clothing?
I love the sheer variety of styles of clothing in the '70s!

Is there any personal or family connection that you feel toward Vietgone’s story?
My family members were refugees from Vietnam, so I do see a lot of parallels in Vietgone to their own lives starting out in America—the pain of leaving family behind—and wondering what would become of them—the inability to communicate and the struggle of starting over.
Tell me about some of your other design work.
I designed a superhero TV series, "Mighty Med," and a '60s beach party homage movie, Teen Beach 2, for Disney, which were a blast. I like going between film, television and theatre work because I enjoy the variety and because I feel that each works different parts of my brain. Though the initial design process is pretty similar for both, there's a practical aspect of theatre costume that you always have to keep in mind: how they get in and out of the clothing and how much time they have to do that. Visually, in film and television, the camera gets so much closer to everything so the little details are especially important. Most of the time, you'll only see things from the waist up in medium shots so you have to pay special attention to that to help communicate character to the audience. In theatre, you see it all and in real time.

What’s the most surprising thing about you that people might not know?
 I'm a big fan of the Turner Classic Movies channel and a huge film history buff!

What three words describe you—and why did you choose them?
Creative: I like to think outside the box.
Easy-going: I think this is one of the keys to collaboration.
Ambitious: I'm motivated and driven, all things I learned from my parents.

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