'Theater geek' turns to costume design

By Sydney Foreman

Costume design teacher Lisa Peters has been “holding a needle and stabbing it through things” since she learned how to read, she said.

“You wear a costume every day,” Peters said. “Even regular clothing is a costume. You choose the image you put out in the world. It’s your first impression and hopefully not your last.”

For the most recent play “Fiddler on the Roof,” Peters said she enjoyed making the costume for the character Fruma-Sarah, the deceased wife of the butcher. She began the costume knowing that she wanted something “ghostly” and tattered but did not have a clear idea of how she wanted the costume to turn out.

“I just sort of went for it,” she said.

Peters decided to use unconventional materials for the majority of the garment. She used Ikea curtains as the main fabric for Fruma-Sarah’s dress, and Ping-Pong balls for her pearl necklace. She also said she enjoyed working on the play because she was able to learn about Jewish culture and customs.

When creating costumes for the school’s plays, Peters often receives assistance from students. Ruby Boyd ’12 has helped Peters create many of the costumes. For “Fiddler on the Roof,” she was one of 11 students who comprised the costume crew.

Boyd took the costume design elective, which is taught by Peters, last year and is currently taking a costume design directed study. She enjoys costume design because “you can see your art walking around on stage and contributing to the whole image of the show,” she said.

Boyd said she enjoys working with Peters as a teacher.

“She is the most balanced person I have ever met,” Boyd said. “She’s good at both getting people to work and making it fun.”

Growing up, one of Peters’ first clothing fascinations was her grandmother’s housecoat. Peters’ grandmother often wore the worn-out housecoat while doing chores. This tattered piece was influential to Peters because her grandmother wore it as she taught Peters how to sew.

Peters, who grew up in Long Beach, refers to herself as a “big time theater geek.” Her high school mostly performed student work, and she was very fond of participating in student written plays because they allowed her and her peers to develop their own ideas and create a whole theatrical world.

Peters’ time in her school’s theater department enabled her to incorporate dramatic ideas into her clothing creations.

For her prom, Peter’s created her own dress, which she now describes as a “hideous ’80s thing with huge sleeves.”

After high school, Peters attended California Institute of the Arts. She started as a graphic design major but quickly switched to costume design, her true passion.

Throughout college Peters began working various jobs that paid around $100 per job.

Her first job with a consistent salary was at the Los Angeles Shakespeare Company, where she worked as an assistant designer.

Peters came to Harvard-Westlake in the mid-1990s when Middle School Dean Kate Benton, who also teaches drama, put on a production of “Crazy for You.” Benton had originally asked a mutual friend of Peters and herself to do the makeup for the play, but the friend was unavailable. She instead referred Peters for the job. Peters accepted and she said she ended up enjoying herself.

In 2004, Peters was freelancing in San Francisco when she decided she wanted to return to a full-time employer. She came across a posting that said Harvard-Westlake needed a costume designer and recalled the delightful time she had working on the production.

“It was a kind of long term interview,” she said.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login