We were lucky enough to be able to interview Jason Brass, the head of wardrobe for Kooza by Cirque Du Soleil, currently touring Australia. The current incarnation of Kooza looks fabulous. The wardrobe plays an emphatic role in the theming of the show, and we wanted to understand the creative process that goes behind it.
* You grew up in Florida. How influential was your hometown? What influenced you the most growing up?
Growing up in St Petersburg Florida has a lot of who I am today. I started working at a local theatre company (American Stage) at the age of 14. Working at such a young age in theatre I had the opportunity to work and learn from so many talented actors, technicians, directors, and artists. I am very grateful that they took me under their wing and gave me the skills to be able to hone my craft. I also went to a performing arts high school (Pinellas County Center for the Arts) where I was in the Technical Theatre Program. This program gave me the courage to explore as an artist in many fields including photography, sculpture, drafting, painting and design for theatre as well as sewing and pattern making and crafting for shows.
* You’ve worked in so many locations across the US. Which was the best? Your favourite? The most impressive when it comes to circus stuff/costume design?
I have had the opportunity to work all over the states and the world. There are so many wonderful places that I have been. I do not really have a favourite place. There is always something special about every city that I have visited in the last 10 years of touring. There are so many wonderful museums and exhibits all over the world that I have had the chance to see in person. The Kyoto Costume collection is one of my favourites. As they do not have a display, I had the chance to visit them in Kyoto where they opened their doors and let us look at their collection up close!
* How different is working on TV shows compared to theatre?
TV and film are very different than theatre. On TV we can hide things from the camera that you as a spectator would never see. The hem of the dress too long to the shirt too big? We have ways of pinning it up and never sewing it. As for theatre the audience is right there. There is no way of faking it. The circus arts have their own challenges. Besides keeping the look of the costume, we also have to make sure that it is functional with the movement. We also have our tricks. Buttons made from silicone, chains made from elastics, jewels made from silicone so that they move with the artist and will not hurt the artist.
* What does a craft technician do and how does it tie into the show as a whole?
A craft technician holds a very valuable role at Cirque du Soleil. They are responsible for maintaining the accessories and shoes on the show. They will do everything from leather working to mold making. They also with our shop in Montreal will produce pieces that are functional to the show.
* What’s been your favourite role (within Cirque du Soleil and out) and how can you suggest other people can get into the industry?
I have held many positions draper, first hand, craft artisan, wig maker and styling, and shoe maker, and makeup artist. I have always enjoyed all of the positions that I have held as they all have their own challenges. Shoe making and wig making have given me the most joy as I have a passion for them. My suggestion for someone who wants to get into costuming is learn as much as you can from the people who are already in the industry. Also, learn as many skills in all areas of costuming. This has kept me employed as I have a wide range of skills.
Let’s talk about Kooza…
* How would you describe the story of Kooza in one sentence?
Kooza is the journey of an innocent into the world of magic and wonder.
* You might be biased, but in your opinion how much impact does the costume and set design help tell the story of Kooza?
Costumes play a huge role in telling the story of Kooza. Makeup is a huge role as well. These help create the world of Kooza.
* To do with the above, have you created anything in Kooza or past shows that impacts the story so much that it couldn’t continue without it? Say, a set piece that’s vital to the show?
Our costumes were created by our designer Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt. She and the team have thought of everything from the style of the show to the fabrics and materials used to create this world. Our job here on tour it to maintain the look that she has given to us. Things have evolved overtime; new techniques have been executed.
* Do you ever get bored by the acrobatic acts? Are you constantly amazed by it all?
Never! The level of the artistry and acrobats is extremely high here on Kooza. There is never a day that I am bored. I look at these amazing artist and always question how they do it?!?!
* What’s your process for creating a set piece of costume? How much liberty do you get to do what you like with it? How big is the team? How much time do you have to prepare? What is the creative process from start to finish?
The process of making our costumes is done at our studio in Montreal. They have many artesian who work on the costumes. There are pattern makers, dyers and painters, Lace makers, hat makers, shoe makers and sewers. The process can take up to 281 hours to make one costume. The show was created in 2007 and we have added a few new concepts to the show as the show evolves. The designer is brought in and new concepts are created. There are three of us that travel with the show to maintain the artistic vision of the designer. We employ four local staff to help us on the daily maintenance of the show.
* Do you ever have to change certain things about the show/costumes/art design for different countries? So, are there things that work in some places, that don’t work in others?
The costumes of Kooza are universal. There has only been one time that we changed a concept. When the show went to Japan, we altered the look of our Chinese chair costume. The costume is a pair of tights with a pang. The tights are made to look like tattoos. As tattoo’s are taboo in Japan we changed the tights to a pair of draped tights. This was to respect the culture of the Japanese.
For tickets and more information, visit CirqueDuSoleil.com.