The Costume Designer

Four people dancing in costumes

George Bacon

A Passion Discovered on Broadway

George Bacon, 54, loves theater, especially the great musicals. His circuitous journey toward his chosen career led him to the University of Wisconsin, where he received his BFA in fashion design. From there, he went on to the Fashion Design Institute of Technology in New York City. That's where he found his true passion-not at school but on Broadway. "Every Saturday I would go up to TKTS (a discount ticket outlet) and buy a ticket to a matinee."

As U-M's costume shop supervisor, George says, "A lot of people don't even have a clue that it's actually all done here-not only the costume design, but the set design, the sound design, the light design, all areas on stage. A lot of people have no idea that there are people getting degrees in this stuff!"

George grew up in a small town called Oregon in Wisconsin, and had to cut his own path since he was a kid who bravely followed his not-so-well-understood interests. "I was interested in costume design in high school," he says. "In the 1970's, the small town I was from didn't really know where to send me for education."

After his experience as a theater patron and fashion design student in New York City, George returned to Wisconsin and became involved with Children's Theater of Madison, where he was introduced to costuming principles. decided he needed more training. His desire to learn more about design led him to U-M for graduate school in Costume Design. Most of his design education and experience up to that point had been in the fashion design we see in magazines and on models. He wanted to design and dress actors for stage productions. "I didn't know theater history, and I really wanted to learn that stuff." He learned that here.

For five summers, during and after grad school, he designed costumes for summer stock productions of the American Stage Festival in Nashua, New Hampshire. He tried living and working in New York City, but says, "I'm not a person who likes living in New York. It really wasn't for me."

So, when the opportunity came, George made Ann Arbor home and returned to the university, where he works in the costume shop, teaches classes in draping and pattern-making, and continues to work in his "first love," costume design. He is still amazed-over the moon!-that he, a small town boy from Wisconsin, found his dream job at the U-M, which allows him to do all three.

An Office Interior

George's office is on the second floor of the Walgreen Center on North Campus. He has a book shelf filled with costume books, and photos and drawings tacked to boards on the walls. The costume shop itself is surprisingly clean and uncluttered. "We actually moved in before the building opened," George recalls. "We had to wear hard hats the first week." (U-M's Theater Department used to be on Central Campus in the Frieze Building, where North Quad is now.)

The costume shop staff typically work on three or four plays at once. "We do ten shows a year here," explains George, "so it's one right after another. We never stopuntil the last show."

George is entering his twentieth year in the Costume Design Shop. When asked what he loves most about his job, he says, "The students. They are able to attract amazing students here." He adds, "This costume shop and the way it's run is on par with or better than many professional regional theaters in the country.

He attributes the high quality of the department to "tradition, developed over the years with certain deans in the School of Music, Theater & Dance," he says. "They have this professional attitude and program here. It's what attracts people like me, and so many students here. They are getting the best experience that they can. Many of the students go on to have major careers in television, music, film, and theater."

Sometimes he confesses that getting the costumes ready for a big production, especially on a tight deadline and budget, is a little like the drama that unfolds on the reality television show, "Project Runway." George emphasizes, "We try not to do that!"

"To be a great costume designer, you need creativity," says George. "And also you need to be able to collaborate with the director and other designers. That's when it's really the most fun – when all those people are working together toward one vision of making this show work."

- Jan Schlain