Ten Lessons Learned from Costuming Cats (Part One)

Lesson One: Originality Can Trump Research

When I first found out that I would be the costume designer for San Diego Junior Theatre's production of Cats, I was very excited. I was also very nervous. I mean, at first glance the project is extremely daunting. The only direction that the director of the production gave me was that he wanted, "unitards and legwarmers."

Now, I tend to be somebody who likes to create rather than copy. So, I did my best not to look at pictures from the original, or any other, production of the musical. I had seen the production about three times in the 80s when it first started touring. So the next step was to take my original memories and try to create something new. I sketched and sketched. And eventually, I came up with 34 individual looks that I really liked.

Victoria & Munkustrap dance the Jellicle Ball with the rest of the cats in SDJT's 2008 production of Cats, the musical
Victoria & Munkustrap dance the Jellicle Ball with the rest of the cats in SDJT's 2008 production of Cats, the musical

After, and only after, I had my sketches pretty much set in stone, then and only then did I decide to look online at various sketches from other productions. To my delight, I actually found that I had created mostly new looks that really worked well for our production. It was this originality that made me feel accomplished, excited, and ready to conquer the production itself. I knew that I had actually developed something new and not just rehashed what someone else took their time to create. Yes, it had its similarities, and a couple of the costumes looked downright like knock-offs. But, you know, I knew that they weren't. And I knew that, even though my brain pulled inspiration from its fifteen-year-old memories, the designs I had created were MY originals. And that, my friends, is what art and expression is about...the accomplishment of creation, not the completion of a mimic. 

Would you have copied designs from earlier productions?

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Be sure to check out my other hubs on Costuming Cats:

And coming soon...Lesson Five: Cleanliness is Next to Godliness


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