Alva Review-Courier -

Oklahoma City costume designer preps for busy summer shows

 


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Before mother and daughter can switch bodies and outfits in Disney's "Freaky Friday," before the cast of "Hello, Dolly!" can put on their "Sunday clothes," and before the former bandmates in "Mamma Mia!" can pull out their old disco-era outfits for a reunion, Jeffrey Meek has to do what he's been doing since childhood.

"I was always kind of obsessed with costumes," said Meek, resident costume designer for Lyric Theatre. "My grandmother taught me to sew, and I was probably sewing with her at 8 or 9, (first) pillows and then I'd make my own Halloween costumes. And Halloween was huge."

Now in his 19th season with Lyric, Meek hits his creative peak nowadays not at Halloween but in the summer, when Lyric shifts from producing modest musicals at its intimate Plaza District theater to mounting large-scale, fully-orchestrated summer shows in the 2,477-seat theater at the Civic Center Music Hall.

"Every summer, we do a series of shows that open every nine days. ... We're so busy that we do opening night and the next morning, we have a meet-and-greet for the next show. And I start fittings that day," he said.

Lyric's "Summer at the Civic" series opened last month with the new musical Disney's "Freaky Friday," based on the popular movies, the Oklahoman reported. After the teen-friendly title closes, Lyric will stage the elaborate classic "Hello, Dolly!" July 10-15 and the ABBA jukebox musical "Mamma Mia!" July 24-29. Meek and his close-knit team of seamstresses, or stitchers, have been working for months to design, build and buy costumes for the three shows.

"Jeffrey Meek is one of the greatest and most accomplished theater artists I've had the pleasure to work with," said Lyric's Producing Artistic Director Michael Baron, who is directing "Freaky Friday," in an email. "He has designed more shows than anyone I know, and somehow, with each show he creates works of art that actually help actors create better and more thrilling performances. The care, time and hard work which he and his team put toward each show is astounding."

Growing up in Bridgeport, Texas, Meek, 46, said he has vivid memories of sitting on a trampoline with his friends and passing out rabbit costumes he had created for them.

"I remember having a sack with their name on it, and I put all the things that I wanted them to wear in each sack — which is no different than what I do now. I was obsessed with pantyhose and rolling them down so they look like the ankles on Bugs Bunny," he recalled with a laugh.

He moved north to study at Oklahoma City University and, as a student, he worked for Lyric as a dresser, helping actors with quick-changes backstage during shows. Fresh out of college, the theater hired him as a contract designer.

"I design the costumes and buy the fabric and do the cutting and get everyone dressed for the shows," said Meek, who became Lyric's resident costume designer in 2009. "These clothes have to tell the story of the person that's wearing them. Sometimes if it's not done right ... they're wearing something that they would never wear, and it's confusing for the story. It's confusing for the audience. And it's sort of pompous of a designer to just design something because he wants a pretty dress and not design it for the story."

His strategy for designing costumes varies for each show based on the setting, characters and time frame of the story, as well as the color palette the set designer has devised. Since "Freaky Friday" is set in present day and features mostly high school students, he has been shopping for school uniforms, gym class gear and jeans.

"This year, I'll still spend a lot of time at the mall. To costume all the high school kids, (it's) me at every store that I'm too old to be in," said Meek from his shop in Lyric's Thelma Gaylord Academy building in the Plaza District.

He also plans to do more shopping than designing costumes with "Mamma Mia!," which will feature a more stylized look and brighter color palette in tune with its ABBA hits. But buying clothes isn't necessarily easier than creating them from scratch.

"There's a lot of swimwear in 'Mamma Mia!' Nothing's worse for a woman than buying a swimsuit — except ... a man buying a swimsuit for her. It's not easy," he said with a laugh.

He will design, and his stitchers will build, the 1970s-style costumes that the show's grown-up girl band members don for their reunion.

"I've never made these glitter jumpsuits before. Not like this ... but we did 'Dreamgirls' a few years ago, and it had a lot of disco stuff and we had a good time with it."

Meek and his team have been working since mid-April on the middle show of the Civic Center season, the song-and-dance spectacle "Hello, Dolly!," since it will be their most daunting role this summer.

"We're building everything: all the menswear, all the womenswear. It's a period piece. Can't go to the bustle dress store, so we make it all here. ... There's a lot of layers, there's a lot of accessories, there's a lot of hats, there's a lot of parasols, there's a lot of boots. And 'Hello, Dolly!' is known for clothes ... for the famous red dress that comes down the stairs that she sings 'Hello, Dolly' in. There's also a costume parade that happens in the middle of the first act called 'Sunday Clothes' where characters just do a procession of fancy clothes. So, no pressure there," he said.

"Many of the stitchers have been here for 16 or 17 or 18 years with me. ... Our shop's quick and we can crank out some dresses."

The shop will crank out more than 200 costumes for turn-of-the-20th-century romp.

"I'm retired, so this is my vacation time — from my home. I have six grandkids and five daughters," said seamstress Irma Arias, who like Meek, started with Lyric in summer 2000. "This is the time for me where I just love to do what I do ... and we love Jeffrey."

It's the love that keeps Meek coming back to the costume shop, too.

"I love the people I work with, and we have a good time when we come to work. But we're also creating art and telling good stories. It's a fun collaborative art to get with a choreographer and a director and a cast and a set designer and a lighting designer. And all of us bring our creative abilities together and put together a good work of art ... that tells a story," Meek said.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

 

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