Sonya Berlovitz

What is your background? How did you get involved with theatrical costume creation? I grew up in the theatre. My dad was an amateur actor and my mom was a professional seamstress. They both encouraged my involvement in Community Theater as a child actor. Throughout junior high and high school I sewed most of my own clothes. As a young adult I was able to start sewing for a theatre company run by my sister and three other artists – they gave me my start in costume designing professionally.

How would you describe your work? Do you have an area of expertise/ specialty?
Many of my costumes have been constructed from several fabrics of the same color pieced together. For me this represents a kind of painting with fabric. Seams are sometimes left on the outside with raw edges showing, sometimes cutting across a costume at an odd angle so as to make the inner workings of a design visible to the eye, as if turning the process to the outside. I try to keep my designs fresh; unexpected; with details that sometimes surprise. I’d like the viewer to think of my costumes as a part of a theatre architecture that is revolving and evolving, never static. If I had to pick an area of expertise it would be in original works with a lot of movement.

Have you studied fashion design in school? What did you like best about the school you attended? What advice would you give to anyone considering going to school vs. doing it on their own? BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Certificate from La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. I loved La Chambre for the discipline it taught me and that is where I learned to drape. I loved the Art Institute for encouraging my individual artistic voice. Well, since I have done both (I went to the SAIC when I was 30) – If you’re going to go to school choose one that is in a city and has a program that you feel passionate about – then figure out a way to afford it. There is great value in doing it on your own, but having the luxury of time you get in a school to research and develop your skills is invaluable. It’s a gift everyone should have.

How have you been influenced by the theater/ fashion/ costume community? Film community? Who/ what inspires you? My background in fashion and painting has contributed strongly to my process. I often draw on both contemporary fashion and historical references as inspirations. By using this eclectic approach I believe I can speak more directly to the audience by giving them something with which to identify. I am constantly researching designers’ new collections; in particular the Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. I am strongly influenced by the poetry in their work. For any given production I will look at film and other theatres’ versions to see what kinds of interpretations have been made of a story. It’s a way for me to have an inner dialogue about the work.

Do you intend/ plan to continue to work in theatre? Do you see yourself working in film? Some other entertainment industry? Yes, I will always be working in theatre in some capacity. I have actually designed a few independent, lower budget films. I would like the chance to design another film, but since they usually require an overwhelming time commitment during a shoot, it’s often difficult to combine the two fields.

Have you had any careers not related to art? I have many times throughout my life taken on secondary jobs to supplement my income. Everything from waitressing to daycare.

How have you handled the business side of being an artist? It’s difficult. I am not naturally an aggressive person and I think you have to have a bit of that to make a good business out of your art. Although, I’ve been a costume designer for 29 years so in some regard I’ve succeeded.

What are your goals? What are your plans for the future? I am hoping to branch out into designing for more regional theaters outside of Minnesota. I would like to incorporate more travel into my work as I find it very regenerating and inspirational.

Do you have side projects you work on? Have you collaborated w/ other artists in the past? I am almost always working on commissions for clothing I’ve designed. More specifically, I am currently working on two wedding dresses, one for a woman who has written a script and will be presenting her ceremony in a theatre complete with extras.
As a costume designer I am always collaborating with other designers, the director, actors and technicians. My longest collaboration was with Theatre de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis where I had designed over 50 productions – most of them directed by Dominique Serrand, one of the five founding members of the company.

What was one of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on? 1929 for Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis and Paris. It was the first production I designed and had a bigger cast than any project I’ve worked on since. More recently The Miser which was a co-production between American Repertory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. It toured around the country for two years with largely the same cast. All of the elements, design, direction and actors were in complete harmony on that project.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the costume industry since you got involved? Where do you see the industry going in 5 years? 10 years? I’m probably aging myself by saying this, but younger designers today don’t seem as willing to work for little just to gain experience. There doesn’t seem to be as much value placed on the process.

Favorite painter/ artist: Some of my favorites: Sonia Delauney, Picasso, Matisse, Egon Schiele, Anselm Kiefer, Maira Kalman, David Coggins

What are you currently reading? Azar Nafisi’s “Things I’ve Been Silent About”

Is there a book that has strongly influenced you? “New Fashion Japan”

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