Saturday, July 30, 2011

New Visions Exhibit: Scott Arend's Sock Puppet Costumes

Scott Arend's puppet for Juan in Don Quichotte (costume design by Missy West); Rozarii Lynch photo

"New Visions," an art gallery of work by employees of Seattle Opera hosted in the lobbies of McCaw Hall, is curated by Seattle Opera Trustee Judy Whetzel, Bellevue Arts Museum Artistic Director Stefano Catalani, and Speight Jenkins.

Alex Mansoori as Juan in Don Quichotte; Rozarii Lynch photo

As one of Seattle Opera's principal dressers, Scott Arend stays backstage during performances, assisting a principal singer with costume changes, making sure the singer  has his props—handkerchief, ring, letter in a hidden pocket—and anticipating other needs. If the singer has to perform a difficult aria or a physically taxing scene, for instance, Arend will have a towel on hand so the singer can wipe his brow. The more superstitious among the singers even ask him to hold their paycheck for them until the performances are over. And then there are the visitors, which Arend invites backstage or keeps at bay, depending on the singer’s wishes. It is his job to take care of all of these needs so that the singers can focus on singing and singing alone.

But while his singers are onstage, particularly during longer operas, Arend has some down time. During the Ring, Seattle Opera principal dresser Scott Arend found that he had long stretches of time between Greer Grimsley’s costume changes.  So he decided to start a new project “for the fun of it,” he says. The project turned into a sock puppet (aka "sock monkey") wearing an eye patch and a replica of Wotan’s God cape, replete with quilting, hand painting, and hand stitching. Arend gave the puppet to Grimsley as a gift after the production. “He went crazy for it,” Arend says.

William Burden as Dodge in Amelia; Rozarii Lynch photo

Scott Arend's puppet for Dodge in Amelia (costume design by Ann Hould-Ward); Rozarii Lynch photo

A tradition of sorts was born. Arend, who has been with Seattle Opera for nine years and is this month’s New Visions artist, has also made puppets for Luretta Bybee as Amanda in Amelia and William Burden as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, among others that will be in his McCaw Hall exhibit. Now he has singers making requests.

Luretta Bybee as Amanda in Amelia; Rozarii Lynch photo

Scott Arend's costume for Amanda in Amelia (costume design by Ann Hould-Ward); Rozarii Lynch photo

The small scale costumes do present challenges. If the weave of the original material is too big or it frays too easily, he looks for an imitation. And then there is the problem of the sock puppet’s figure, or lack thereof. “It’s a challenge because they’re floppy. They have no waist or shoulders, so they have fitting problems,” he said.

Aleksandra Kurzak as Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor; Rozarii Lynch photo

Scott Arend's puppet for Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor (costume design by Deborah Trout); Rozarii Lynch photo

These miniature costumes are also an opportunity for Arend to create a costume in its entirety. (Typically, a single costume in the shop is created by a number of different individuals, from pattern-makers and cutters to craftspersons and stitchers.) He has also used the dolls as an opportunity to delve into the fashion of famous historical figures, such as Coco Chanel, Marie Antoinette, and Frida Kahlo.

William Burden as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor; Rozarii Lynch photo

Scott Arend's puppet for Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor (costume design by Deborah Trout); Rozarii Lynch photo

Arend’s interest in dolls and their cultural significance goes beyond his whimsical sock puppets. He is the author of Skipper: Barbie’s Little Sister and he has traveled as a consultant for Mattel, evaluating and appraising collections. And he has been interested in costume design for a long time, working for ACT, Intiman, 5th Avenue Theatre, and Paramount, in addition to doing some fashion magazine photography.
It was as a design major at the University of Washington that he brought his interest into focus. He took a class in ballet and after the final performances, for which Arend had created his troupe’s masks and headdresses, the director of the dance department approached him and said something prescient (if perhaps a bit humbling), “I don’t think you have a future in dance, but your costumes were great.”

Interview by Jessica Murphy

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