Jon Allbritton is a Seattle based costume/make-up designer who describes himself as “stuck somewhere in between 1760 and 1960”. With a history of grand to light opera under his belt, musical theatre slowly became his niche. His bold choice of fabrics and vibrant use of color always catches the eyes of the audience. Originally from New Orleans, Seattle has become his home for the past 20 years. So rarely are the technical designers featured in interviews but we were happy to chat with him about his work on the Seattle area premiere of Harvey Fierstein’s CASA VALENTINA which runs October 19 to the 28th at the Erickson Theatre on Capitol Hill.
David-Edward Hughes: What is it that made Harvey Fierstein’s CASA VALENTINA a show you really wanted to work on?
Jon Allbritton: Well in one word HARVEY! I have been a great admirer of his for as long as I can remember, and this show seems to be him at his best. It also is a period and subject matter that is very dear to my heart. My work is perpetually stuck in the 60’s, so finding a show that not only is in 1963 with men in dresses? I think the only other playwright that panders to me like this is Charles Busch.
DEH: How did you go about designing outfits for straight, closeted cross-dressers in the 1960’s, which is a world away from performance oriented drag?
JA: The play is based on a fascinating book that complied all these photographs of the actually men going away to the real resort and using that as a reference was a huge help. For this show i really had had to pull back and really tame down my work going for reality vs. fantasy. English drag actor Danny La Rue is my go to, so putting him aside for cross dressers looking like Mamie Eisenhower was a challenge but a good one to have.
DEH: As plays have less characters in them than musicals do, let alone costume changes, was it nice to be able to have additional time to fashion the attire?
JA: You are right…I do usually work in musical theater, so this is a great shift to have the time to tell the story in wardrobe with our amazing cast. Seriously, this cast is one of the best I have ever had the chance to dress. Unlike musicals it really is about telling the story instead of throwing feathers and sequin at everything to entertain. In a show like this it’s the subtle details like choosing fabrics that foreshadow what’s to come… most people never notice things like this but it’s my way to work with the actors to tell the story. It’s also nice not having the wear and tear that musicals can put wardrobe through, so I can add vintage pieces that really ground some of the looks. For instance when I got worried I was in the wrong color palette finding exact matching vintage hats to go with them really put me at ease that we were in the right time and place.
DEH: We’re you always interested in costuming?
JA: No, not always. My grandmother wanted me to follow in her ballet slippers. So I did for many years want to be a dancer. Then puberty hit and my body changed, and I was out! Talk about Dance Ten, Looks Three! I acted for a bit then found the costume shop and never left.
DEH: Who are some of your costume designer influences?
JA: There are so many greats to pick form but my top two would be Adrian (designer of the 1930s MGM films Grand Hotel and The Wizard of Oz among many others). His creations throughout the 30s and 40s defined decades of fashion on screen and off and were so original. And growing up watching all the crazy things Bob Mackie came up with on the Cher and Carol Burnett television shows really made me want to make the world a prettier place one sequin at a time.
DEH: What shows are respectively the hardest, easiest, and most totally realized in your career to date?
JA: Hmm, the hardest was when I was hired to fix a production of The Sound of Music. My team (of two) and I had 72 hours to fix and produce, the whole show. To this day I still have no clue how we did it but we did. Easiest? None of them are never easy, right? And the most realized would probably be a new work I did many years ago called The King’s Proposal. It was amazing… the whole show was a build from the ground up. Total fairy-tale bright, colorful and expansive. And the whole production team was wonderful!
DEH: You work a 40 hour week as well as designing costumes for 1-3 shows at a time. How do you maintain the energy and commitment to do all that?
JA: I DO have a full time job, plus I’m the resident designer for Renton Civic Theater. What with other one-off projects I am quite busy. It would be nice to not need to have “The Day Job”. I have my good weeks and bad but at the end of the day try to stay balanced and when not, we fake it….right?
Lesser Known Players production of Harvey Fierstein’s CASA VALENTINA has its NW premiere run October 19-28 at the Erickson Theatre 1528 Harvard Ave, Capitol Hill. For tickets www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3463451