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New York designer dresses up musicalThis is an old article of mine from the Maine Campus.
Twenty-something costume designer Lex Liang sizes up 'Jesus Christ Superstar'
Posted on Monday, February 13th, 2006, 12:00 am
Lex Liang is a difficult guy to get in touch with. That’s because the 23-year-old costume designer for the UMaine School of Performing Art’s upcoming production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is also currently designing for two shows in New York City, “Baby Girl” and “Clocks and Whistles.”
Liang, who identifies New York as his home-base, is also the resident designer at Bangor’s Penobscot Theatre. He began working in Maine last year, when Scott Levy became the art director for Penobscot Theatre.
“I hadn’t met Scott, but we had both worked on the same production of ‘A View from the Bridge’ in New York. When he came to Maine, he was looking for a designer for his first season and called me up,” Liang explained.
Though he is a native of the Los Angeles area, Liang says he likes it out here in Maine. “Maine has been nothing but kind to me; I’ve even agreed to be the resident designer again next year at the Penobscot Theater. It’s really been wonderful.”
Working on the university’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” has also been a good experience for him. “This is the largest cast I’ve ever dressed; it’s really atypical for any production. With this many costumes, it’s really been a daunting task. There are 100 outfits, sometimes double- and triple-cast and with limited resources.”
Liang’s contention is that a costume designer is only as good as the costume shop available at the production facility, and he says, “The shop here has been great. Lucia [Williams-Young, the costume shop manager for the School of Performing Arts], is wonderfully resourceful and supportive. It’s very nice to have so much support with what I do.”
Liang also has an assistant, Caitlin Harrison, who helps him often because he travels so much. He said she makes a lot of good decisions in his absence. “She really has a good sense of my aesthetic and a good way of implementing it.”
In addition to the challenge of designing so many costumes, there were other challenges to the costume design of “Jesus Christ Superstar” because most of the clothes the characters wear are contemporary. “If it looks too designed, then it starts to look kitschy. So each piece had to be designed but couldn’t look costume-y.”
Liang’s favorite pieces of design for this production are for “Mary’s women,” who are a group of reformed prostitutes. For these costumes, he had to “keep [the characters'] background in mind but also keep in mind they’re no longer practicing,” he said, smirking a little. For research, he gathered several of his friends in New York who are, in fact, reformed call-girls, took them to lunch and asked them for all the input they could give. What he learned was that “each prostitute has her own signature style: the Catholic school girl, the 80s rock star.so even if a girl isn’t working anymore, that style tends to carry over into real-life, into clothes that people would wear in real-life, only with a heightened sexuality about them.” That is what inspired him as he designed those costumes.
Liang was able to establish himself in theater at such a young age because at age 13, he knew designing was what he wanted to do. “I was good at arts and crafts and wanted to get paid to do that.” Though no theater program existed at his athletic-centered high school in Huntington Beach, he sought out work at other schools, community and regional theaters. He started out offering his services for free until he had a good reputation then began working for compensation. He graduated from New York University with a major in theater design for scenery and costumes. In addition to theater, he has also worked on Disney parades, television programs and fashion events. Each experience has helped him grow personally and professionally. Liang works about 18 hours a day in order to get everything done but likes life that way. “‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ has been a really great time. With my job, if you don’t have fun, what’s the point?”