Encore: Callie Floor
Monday, February 9, 2015
Interviewed by Laura Brueckner
If you've ever been at an event and seen someone in a dazzling costume, chances are that costumer Callie Floor was involved. Floor, who grew up as part of the Greek community in Salt Lake City, has been running American Conservatory Theater's costume rentals program since it was founded. She's cared for—and loaned out—some of the most gorgeous garments in the Bay Area, while maintaining a design career of her own.
How did you get interested in costuming?
I started college way back in the '70s studying art direction and advertising. I saw a class offered for costume design, and I took it and never looked back! When I decided to go to grad school, I went to an art college in London called the Slade School of Fine Art.
Once I finished with my graduate degree, I decided to move to San Francisco, because I always loved it here. I did some sets, but I always felt more comfortable with costumes, even though I love set design. I think it really helped me as a costumer to learn about creating environments.
You have a unique position in the Bay Area. How did it come about?
In 1989, we had this earthquake and almost lost everything. The theatre imploded. And it came at a really shaky time for ACT as an organization. They were scrambling to bring in cash from any source available. Jim Haire, who was our producing director for a long time, said, "People are always looking for a way to get hold of our costumes. Maybe we should start renting them out." And of course, everybody was horrified. The [costumes are] handmade, they're precious. But we were desperate.
I had turned in my résumé at ACT—for design work, though I was just starting out—but I knew how to run a business. They were just creating this job, and Jim thought that it was a good match. He called me in and said, "I know that you are a designer, but would you be interested in this?" Now I've been here for almost 23 years. It's enabled me to have a design career, because it's very hard to be a theatre designer if you're not married to a rich guy and don't have a trust fund. [Laughs.] This has been the day job that has made my career possible. I love it. I love the history of the company. Come down here and you see a history of theatre in the stock.
What does your "day job" entail?
My main job is to bring in revenue by renting the costumes at ACT and taking care of the stock. We also design the MFA shows at ACT out of our department. That is probably the most fun part of my job, working with our students.
Is anyone else in your family involved in the arts?
My mother is from a generation where women didn't work outside the home, but she did study fashion design and fashion illustration. I definitely got it from the women in my family—an interest in clothing, and fashion, and sewing. They would make handmade lace. They made incredible clothes for their children. These were poor Greek immigrants and the kids always looked exquisite.
Can you tell me more about your design work?
My first real gig was for a theatre called El Teatro de la Esperanza. Then I worked a lot for Oakland Ensemble Theatre, which no longer exists. One of my first jobs was for Magic Theatre; the very first show I did was a José Rivera show. And I did House of Yes, which was a big hit for the Magic. They moved it to L.A., and somebody made an independent film based on our production of it. And they used our design ideas. It was like, "Wow, that's a lot of our work in that movie!"
What advice would you give to designers just starting out?
I belong to the Costumers' Alliance. It's like a listserv that puts us in contact with each other. I'm also a member of the Designers Union; it's similar in terms of people talking about different resources and experiences, and passing jobs along to each other. I think it's a great way for young designers to meet people who are working.
You have to be careful to communicate to people about what's possible with what resources. As a young designer, you end up working for companies that are unrealistic about what they can expect.
And be proud of the work you do. Treat every project you do as important. Know that your name is in the program, and that what you're doing is supporting a performance. When I started realizing, early on, that my job wasn't about me and my art—that it was about supporting the work the actors do—it was a huge revelation, and made my work far more fulfilling.