Character Sketches

Costume Design by Christina Poddubiuk
I was already drawing pictures of the characters in my favourite stories as a child when I could barely read them. They jumped off the page at me, and since
I had somehow avoided the brainwashing effect of the Disney versions, I felt I could depict my heroines by drawing from my imagination and the influences at hand — a slim assortment of art books and wonderful illustrated fairy tales selected for me by my parents and my Polish grandfather.

I had an obsession with Barbie dolls starting at around age six. By age nine or ten I was making clothes for her – my first conscious experiments in fashion design. My father, like his father, had a taste for nice clothes and I remember going shopping with him and somehow picking up the finer points of men’s tailor- ing. Years later I worked at Holt Renfrew and was fascinated as I watched women make choices about what to wear. I developed a comfort level about making recommendations to strangers:“you should try this one.”

But costumes are different to clothes. We make choices about clothing based on life- style, economic circumstances, practicality. The way we present ourselves is not necessarily who we are in real life. In theatre we generally costume to support an actor’s choices in developing a character, and to provide clues for the audience. Our clothing choices have more of a subtext in real life than they do on stage.

I completed an Honours English degree at McGill University and immersed myself in literature, particularly of the Elizabethans and the Victorians. Combined with a smattering of art history and a persistent fantasy involving revisiting the past, I found everything clicked when I applied to the National Theatre School, where I was mentored by Francois Barbeau. Among my classmates at nts were Colm Feore, Seana McKenna, Joe Ziegler and Nancy Palk.

I worked as a first hand in the wardrobe department at the Shaw Festival, and then as the dyer at Stratford. I worked closely with Susan Benson, creating those colour gradations for the Mikado kimonos. Susan was head of design at that time and it was her recommendation to John Hirsch that led to my first design assignments at Stratford.

And talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool – those first projects at Stratford were for Michael Langham, Richard Cottrell, William Gaskill and Derek Goldby – directors at the end of long and illustrious careers, with vast experience in theatre compared to mine.

Writers explore character with words; artists and illustrators explore character in visual mediums. I can imagine how Uriah Heep looks based on how Dickens describes him — but this is a two-dimensional relationship with the work. Nobody else is involved. In theatre, this relationship becomes three-dimensional because an actor enters the equation and brings the character to life. My role becomes collaborative — work- ing with the actor and director to bring a play to life on stage for an audience.