Costume Designer Pete Rush has worked for years in Seattle, including at ArtsWest, most recently for last Season’s Mothers and Sons. He spoke with us about working on Taylor Mac’s Hir, co-produced with Intiman Theatre, playing at ArtsWest from February 28 – March 25. Learn more here.

Photo credit: Darryl Heard.

What challenges and opportunities are unique to Hir?

The challenge with this show is that while it’s relatively very simple-looking – it’s just four characters in pretty much every day clothing, and it’s basically just one costume per character – both the challenge and the opportunity is that because it’s so simple, everything that appears on stage has to be so specific. We have an opportunity here to really play with the notion of character and picking clothing that really speaks to what this person would wear, their personality, and how they present themselves in the world. So it’s more than just finding a pair of jeans. It’s finding that exact perfect pair of jeans. The right brand. The right label. Something Max, for example, would wear. So that’s both a joy and a lot of work, and it takes a lot of collaboration both with the performers and with the design team to come to that.

Where have you found inspiration – movies, fashion, other productions?

I purposefully do not look at other production photos for plays that I’m working on, especially with this one. We want to approach this in a fresh, organic way that suits the team of artists who are assembled. So when you look at other images of past productions, it’s so easy to say, Oh, well they did it this way, that’s the way this gets done. So I’m purposefully not looking at that. Instead I’m looking at a lot of military inspiration, a lot of blogs and Facebook profiles of young transgender men and women, to understand these looks and styles – and really more for this show than for many others, I’m looking toward our actors to get their input. All of the actors, pretty much across the board, have some very specific ideas about what they think their character looks like and have shared some images and some ideas, and so I’m really basing a lot of the show on that.

“I’ve never seen a play like this produced or performed – that tackles this kind of subject matter in such a funny yet in-your-face kind of way. It’s bold. It’s brash. It doesn’t shy away from presenting these difficult sort of notions.”

Can you tell us a bit about your process?

It starts with the play, obviously – I read the play a bunch of times and note my thoughts and impressions and the images that come into my head. Then it’s a process of sharing that with Jennifer [Zeyl] – the director – and the rest of the design team to see how that jives. Then it’s a matter of finding images or research that supports that vision so that people can have a visual representation of it. That brings us to First Rehearsal, at which point I start collaborating with actors – purchasing and pulling lots of different options for these characters, and then in the fittings we just try on a bunch of things and we determine what feels and looks right.

Has the Cultural Advisory Council helped you with your work on Hir?

So far they have! Our military advisor definitely had some thoughts about what that look would be, in terms of hair style and shoe collection, and then our father figure [Arnold] has suffered from a stroke and has a lot of physical impairments, so that has definitely informed and impacted the kind of of clothes we can put the actor in – he has an arm situation that he’s working with, and partial paralysis of his body. I’m definitely looking to the Cultural Advisory Council for the input that they have.

What are you most excited for audiences to see in this play?

I’ve never seen a play like this produced or performed – that tackles this kind of subject matter in such a funny yet in-your-face kind of way. It’s bold. It’s brash. It doesn’t shy away from presenting these difficult sort of notions. So I’m excited for audiences to have to confront that, and to see within themselves where their own biases and prejudices may lie or look around them to some trans folks in their lives that they may not have fully considered their life experience. So that’s what’s exciting to me, honestly – just telling the story out of marginalized communities that we don’t hear much about these days. And for me, just working on the show, it’s a dream team. The actors are all amazing, the director and the other designers are people I’ve been collaborating with for years, both theatre companies involved are top-notch, so it’s just a joy to produce something with such amazing artists.

Hir opens February 28 at ArtsWest. Get tickets and learn more here.