A Hidden Gem: Josie Gardner, costume shop manager

Josie Gardner
Josie Gardner

Josie Gardner, head of the costume shop, has been at the School of Drama full-time since 1990. Working with Josie and her support team provides graduate students in costume design the opportunity to tackle large, complex productions and work directly with a professional staff.

When did you first come to UW and what was your original role?

I have an MFA from UCLA in costume design and an undergraduate degree in directing. I was first hired by the School of Drama as an interim faculty member in 1983. After which, I freelanced for four or five years before joining the faculty at Cornish College of the Arts, where I taught for four years. I was hired back here as costumer in 1990. Shortly after I came on as a costumer, the costume shop manager gave his notice and the faculty promoted me. I’ve been the costume shop supervisor ever since.

Can you describe how you work the graduate students?

The student designer totally works within the classroom and with their director to come up with the concept and drawings. By the time the design comes to us in the shop, there is a clear concept of what the show will look like. What I do is go through item by item with the designer. They talk to me about what is in their mind. We might look at a sketch and ask: is the character wearing a pair of pantyhose or seemed stockings? Is this a pair of cotton stockings? There are always multiple options for what it is they are thinking. Then I assign a labor charge and a materials charge. Over the course of working with the designer and learning their vision, I might make suggestions to help streamline ideas and best serve the play.

I also supervise the ASE students. We do a lot of check out here. That’s something I think has been really, really good for this department: we see designers who are working at Seattle Rep, Children’s Theatre, Village Theatre, and occasionally movie people. The ASEs get to work with those designers, so they make contacts with people from the outside. They’ll also do a certain number of construction hours in the shop. Depending on their skill level, construction might entail stitching or dying, it could be internet shopping, or driving the designer around to pull costumes from other theatre shops.

When you’re a young designer out their own your own, you’re not going to be doing big shows because you know you can’t do it all by yourself. While you’re here—and you have wonderful support staff—you want to get that experience for your portfolio.

How do undergraduate students interact with the costume shop?

There will often be one or two that shows a very strong desire and interest. Undergrads sometimes work as assistants to the graduate designers on the main stage productions. The Undergraduate Theater Society will come talk to us about their needs. They can use the shop for fitting purposes and pulling stock during open check out. I also have about 10 hours a week that are open shop and anyone can sign up for a two hour block to use the equipment.

For a long time, I felt like we were really isolated from the campus community. We’re a gem. We’re a wonderful place to find. We’ve gotten people from the entrepreneurial program at Foster (Business School) over here who are interested in apparel merchandising and manufacturing. We’ve had engineers come in and talk to us about how to make something.

How do you see the graduate designers develop throughout their time here?

If there is something in particular that the faculty think the designer needs to address in their work—maybe we have a student who has not had an opportunity, and it’s their last show, to do a lot of building and learn how to work with staff to do that work—then I’ll look at their designs and see if there is a way that we can actually build more on the show. And that’s a very valuable experience to have while you’re in grad school. That’s the whole reason you come. When you’re a young designer out their own your own, you’re not going to be doing big shows because you know you can’t do it all by yourself. While you’re here—and you have wonderful support staff—you want to get that experience for your portfolio.

I get letters and letters and letters from alums expressing how much they appreciated the experience and the time here in the shop—how wonderful it was to be here and to work with such a great support staff.

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