An Interview with Mindy Eshelman, Costume Designer for Venus
By Kristi Good
Mindy Eshelman hails from nearby Franklin, PA and received her MFA in Costume Design from Carnegie-Mellon University. She left Pennsylvania to pursue her career in Los Angeles, where she designed for film and television. (Notably, she designed costumes for the cult classic Office Space!) After twenty years, she is returning home, both to Pennsylvania and the theatre, to design costumes for the University of Pittsburgh Stages’ production of Venus -- not to mention a full assortment of wigs and puppets!
What has your collaboration been like with the director, Cynthia Croot?
I love that even though Cynthia has had a history with the play and had mounted it several times that she was open to collaboration. Cynthia’s approach to the play through the mind space of Sarah was a wonderful departure for my design. Sarah and the people closest to her are more detailed and saturated while the chorus becomes more of a faded blur.
Venus is a complex play. What aspects of it have you used to inform your design process?
I was taken by the themes of perspective and proportion. European women at this time were corseted so that their busts were flattened and dresses fell from under the bust to the floor so that hips and waists were obscured. Sarah was considered an oddity because her body was so counter to the European ideal. From their narrow elitist perspective, she was sub-human.
The theme was exaggerated again in the play with in the play, “ For the Love of Venus,” with humanette puppets. A humanette is a puppet body with a human head, which gives a creepy, distorted proportion. The play explores the fascination with Venus through perception and even deception in an overt way.
You said you’ve never designed puppets before. What has that process been like?
It has been so fun. Venise St. Pierre did most of the building and it has been wonderful to collaborate with her. I did some sketches and brought in all kinds of found objects. Surprisingly a lot of the body parts came from Lake Erie and the Atlantic Ocean. Venise and the students magically wired them all together. Then I did the masks and Venise did the brilliant hair.
Do you have a favorite costume piece/wig/puppet? What about it speaks to you?
I have many a favorite but the most awesome costume piece, Cindy made, and it’s a secret.
Mindy Eshelman is the costume designer for Venus, opening October 25 in the Studio Theatre, produced by University of Pittsburgh Stages.