Keep an Eye on: Christine Crook, Costume Designer
Monday, August 31, 2015
By Rotimi Agbabiaka
| Costume designer Christine Crook. Photo: Lucille Lawrence Photography
“The louder, the weirder, the better,” says costume designer Christine Crook, laughing heartily as she describes her signature style. “I like to see things onstage that are strange and weird and have a mix of fantasy and magic.”
If you saw Shotgun Players' recent production of Twelfth Night, where the imperious Olivia appeared in a six-foot-tall, see-through hoop skirt, or Magic Theatre's Hir, in which an emasculated father shuffled about the stage in a rainbow clown wig and dirty nightgown, you witnessed the trademark humor and exuberance that has made Crook one of the busiest costume designers in the Bay.
Her work has appeared at companies like Center Rep, Marin Theatre Company and California Shakespeare Theater—and she frequently designs for Shotgun Players, where she is a company member, doing the kind of experimental, conceptual work that excites her.
“I feel connected and devoted to the work the company does,” she says, recalling one of her favorite Shotgun memories: costuming Beardo, a postmodern musical about the life of 19th-century Russian mystic, Rasputin.
For a young woman who moved to California in search of “weird artists in San Francisco” this was the Holy Grail. “It had all of the things I love,” said Crook. “Really strange characters, an episodic structure and a mixture of highbrow and lowbrow elements. It had all this humor and wildness and it was sexy. There was this orgy scene with this enormous strap-on, this bedazzled cock. It was wild.”
After graduating from high school, Crook chased her California dream from her native Detroit to Ventura, where she lived with a surfer boyfriend and took community college classes in fashion design. A meeting with a career counselor, however, opened up a new dream for her. Upon learning about Crook’s life-long love for theatre—nurtured by her mother “who was always taking her to plays,” says Crook—the counselor suggested she fuse her theatre and fashion interests. The counselor walked Crook over to the costume shop to introduce her to Abra Flores, her first costume design teacher and the gatekeeper to an exciting new world.
“I walked in and there were all these hats and the ribbons and the shoes and the corsets and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m home!’” Crook recalls.
Crook transferred to UC Berkeley, where she majored in theatre and received what she describes as “a great background in theory and analyzing texts.” The department lacked a costume design major, but Crook was able to work in the costume shop and design costumes for campus productions. Soon after graduation, a phone call from Shotgun Players artistic director Patrick Dooley led to her first costume design job there...and the beginning of a long relationship with the company.
After working professionally for three years, Crook applied to graduate programs to gain more formal training. The MFA program at UC San Diego [UCSD] soon became the obvious choice.
“Everything seemed so strict and standard at some of the [other] schools,” she says, “but then you come to [UCSD]—and it looked like everyone took some acid and designed costumes.”
At UCSD, Crook found both an environment that encouraged individuality and a mentor, Judy Dolan—who, according to Crook, “pulls out the designer in you instead of using a cookie-cutter approach.” Crook left the program with the tools to build a career characterized by experimentation and collage.
“I came out [of the program] with a suitcase packed full of projects and things to turn to, because each show is so different, so how do I begin, how do I figure out what I do?”
That suitcase has guided her through a budding career that spans experimental theatre, contemporary realism, film and opera. She is the resident costume designer at Opera Parallele, where she has “a lot of fun with [the greater] opportunities in opera for stylized costumes, spectacle and huge choruses to unify in striking ways.” She also teaches costume design at University of San Francisco and the Academy of Art University, where she inspires former fashion design students like herself by introducing them to the storytelling possibilities in costume design.
In the future, Crook hopes to keep pushing her boundaries, working with directors that are interested in design-driven productions and taking her costume design into the world of performance art.
She recently received a TBA CA$H grant to produce an interactive installation of glam-rock costumes inspired by Hawk Moon, a Sam Shepard short story collection. When the installation premieres at the Shotgun Players rehearsal studio next January, she’ll be closer to her performance art dreams—but perhaps further away from her dreams of taking a break from constantly working.
“I remember my mentor, Judy, telling me, ‘Say “yes” to everything,’ and that that’s how you get established,” she says. “People know that you’re the guy. You’re the one that’s gonna show up and do the work, so they’re gonna call you.”
These days, it looks like that advice has worked out—for a growing number of Bay Area theatre companies, Christine Crook is definitely “the guy.”
Visit Christine Crook's design website at christinecrook.squarespace.com.