Tech Spotlight: Costume Design for “The Birds“

Your trash is this costume designer’s treasure.

by Sarah Harper

Tulle, fur, velvet and leather — these luxurious materials are the stuff of costume designers’ dreams.

But designer Taylar Kuzniar-Klouda doesn’t need all that garbage to make fly costumes. All she needs is actual garbage.

For the upcoming University of Minnesota production of Aristophanes’ “The Birds,” Kuzniar-Klouda has created the bulk of her costumes from recycled materials. “The Birds” will open Feb. 23.

Kuzniar-Klouda’s inspiration was multi-faceted: the dream of sustainable design, the hoarding nature of birds and the flexibility inherent in working with found objects all got the third-year graduate student’s creative juices flowing.

Color-wise, Kuzniar-Klouda was inspired by old water-color paintings of birds. So the birds that populate director Robert Rosen’s bird world are shades of dusty blue, lavender and rusty oranges and yellow.

“At our first meeting, Bob said, ‘The world of the play is modern. The world of the birds is fantastical. And the world of the gods is ancient,’” Kuzniar-Klouda said.

And the bird costumes are pure whimsy — while the base of each costume is made from hand-dyed fabric, every embellishment is a found object.

“I like design that’s a little clever,” Kuzniar-Klouda said.

And clever she is: Kuzniar-Klouda searched everywhere for garbage that could be used to create feather-like texture. And she reached out to others, mass emailing the theater department to ask for junk.

“Maybe this item is a Christmas ornament — but what can it be and what can it look like onstage?” Kuzniar-Klouda asked.

A trove of trash-can treasures grew and grew — the resulting costumes are made from things like baby socks, Diet Coke bottles, surgical masks and zip ties.

Every piece of litter was eligible for involvement. Kuzniar-Klouda used the mesh that was holding fruit from Costco to spray paint a pair of shoes to look like the reptilian scales on bird feet.

Wearability, durability and moveability were constant concerns when collecting materials and putting them together. But the ultimate goal was to get actors embodying their characters.

“Costume design is so character-driven. You really have to know who that person is, why they do what they do, why they wear what they wear — and how to reflect that to the audience,” Kuzniar-Klouda said.

This production is Kuzniar-Klouda’s third and final costume design; it’s her thesis show. In years past, she’s designed “Execution of Justice,” a 1970s period piece, and “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, another show rooted in a specific time period.

Working on “The Birds” allowed her to work without ever having to adhere to a certain period’s style. There was no button-counting here. Kuzniar-Klouda really got to spread her design wings.

Kuzniar-Klouda said, “This is so fun, and it’s so theatrical — it’s what I fell in love with about theater.”