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Columbus Makes Art Presents Costume Designer Tabitha Abney

Sarah Bacha Sarah Bacha Columbus Makes Art Presents Costume Designer Tabitha AbneyCostume designer Tabitha Abney.
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Columbus costume designer Tabitha Abney, who started her creative career as an independent fashion designer, caught the costume design bug about seven years ago when she helped a friend create a specific coat for a lead actor. This spring, Tabitha is creating the costumes for CATCO’s upcoming production of Working: A Musical, which will be presented virtually Apr. 29 — May 9. Tabitha recently took time from researching costumes for Working to talk about her art and the costume design world.

Sarah: How would you describe what you do?
Tabitha: In a nutshell, I help actors metamorphose into their characters. I’m part of a larger creative team whose goal is to turn our actors into believable people with stories the audience can relate to and resonate with.

Sarah: What inspired you to be a costume designer?
Tabitha: As a kid, I would watch movies and be mesmerized by what each character was wearing. The costumes were always the best part for me, figuring out how the clothing matched up with the characters’ personalities. Flash forward to adulthood, I was working a regular job and doing fashion design on the side when a local filmmaking friend asked me to produce a costume for one of her characters. I had so much fun with it that I did a few more. By the time I landed my first feature film, I realized this was my calling – this is where my passion is.

Sarah: What is your favorite show for which you have designed costumes and why?
Tabitha: This will be my second virtual production with CATCO, but my first one (A Columbus Christmas Carol) will always be my favorite because it presented such unique challenges with everything that was happening in our world in 2020. I had to take what I learned from costume designing for film, adjust it for theater, and then adjust all of that again to work within the confines of the COVID restrictions.

Sarah: Describe your costume design process.
Tabitha: When I first read a script, the characters don’t really have faces yet, but in a way I can “see” them through their clothing. What I see them wearing depends on what each character is saying to me and, more importantly, how it’s making me feel about them. I will pull images of real people, color palettes and period references (yay, Pinterest!) to use as inspiration and share those with the creative team, so that we can all watch these characters come to life.

Costume designer Tabitha Abney at work in her studio.
Costume designer Tabitha Abney at work in her studio.

Sarah: How has COVID affected the way you design costumes for a show?
Tabitha: I would start by saying I’m thankful as an artist to still be able to create and share my craft with audiences even if it’s just virtually. Despite the challenges it presents to artists, it has still taught us. For example, I’ve had to become a lot more reliant on technology (thanks, Zoom!) for activities where I’m normally very hands-on. I’m used to having an actor arrive, then be measured and fitted. I help them dress during the show, and physically make sure that everything is perfect. This is not an option for virtual productions, and there are moments where clear communication is paramount. As with all things virtual, there are those moments when I think: “Ugh! If I could just reach into the screen and adjust that collar a little bit!”

Sarah: What excited you about designing costumes for Working: A Musical?
Tabitha: I love the very idea of presenting an occupational timeline for the generations, and through the costumes, I get to take the audience on a ride of emotions through our characters’ shared experiences.

Sarah: What’s the best thing about the Columbus arts scene right now?Tabitha: In Columbus, there is a vibrant and flourishing arts scene happening here. Some might say that you just have to know where to look for it, but if you look downtown, it’s there. If you go to any of our many districts – King-Lincoln, Franklin Park, German Village and Short North – our diverse art scene is steadily pumping life into this city!

Working: A Musical runs virtually from Apr. 29 to May 9. To learn more about the production and to purchase tickets, please visit catco.org/working/.

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting and advancing the arts and cultural fabric of Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. Learn more about local artists, organizations, public art and events at ColumbusMakesArt.com.

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