SALT LAKE CITY — Pioneer Theatre Company’s upstairs lobby, the Loge Gallery, holds a fantastic display called “A Lifetime of Costume Design: The Work of David Kay Mickelsen.” I was lucky enough to meet with David while I perused his work. He has been costuming shows all across the United States, and what is on display is only a tenth of his large body of work. Mickelsen was very warm and welcoming and shared stories with me about many of his designs.
Mickelsen said he “honed his skills as a costume illustrator while attending California Institute of the Arts.” He has worked at Pioneer Theatre Company, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and companies all around the country. UTBA reviewers have praised his work in recent shows, like The Three Musketeers and Macbeth at the Utah Shakespeare Company, and Pioneer Theatre Company’s Newsies.
I loved how he could take a show and make powerful costuming choices to bring it to life. His designs for 1776 were more vibrant and colorful than I have seen, while keeping the taste of the time period intact, and it made a nice contrast to the usual boring browns. For Peter and the Starcatcher, he had some brilliant designs for the mermaids that I would love to see in a show. Each of his pieces had fabric squares layered in the corner so viewers could imagine exactly how the costume itself would look.
The display heavily represents Shakespearean works, and in one area there were three productions Comedy of Errors in a row, all costumed uniquely from each other, based on the various time periods they were set in. One of my absolute favorites was The Tempest, with such ethereal costume designs for the spirits, like Juno, whose headdress stretched two feet above her head in a gorgeous crown with feathers flowing out. The costumes were dusted with gold sparkles and the overall effect looked heavenly.
Into the Woods was the first show Mickelsen designed for Pioneer Theatre Company, and his drawings show the witch mostly in a chilling black dress and cloak, and all the characters’ heads drawn extra large compared to his other drawings. I asked him about that, and he described how changing the caricature made the sketching more interesting and fun for him. I appreciated how each show seemed to fit the style of drawing, like in his design of Crazy For You, his characters all had bent necks with snazzy expressions and triangle heads.
Mickelsen even had costume designs for the musician Prince, which showed his likeness so well that my husband declared, “That’s Prince!” It was exciting to see that Mickelsen had been designing great works outside of the usual theatre scene, and his designs for Prince made the musician look groovy and fabulous, many with tight pants with a high waist and poufy sleeved jackets. Mickelsen had also designed animal costumes for ballet dancers in an Aesop’s Fables dance performance that looked very difficult to create. He described the masks to me as a thin mesh that could be seen through from the performer’s side but were painted in a way to hide the performers face completely from the audience, making their whole face look like the animal. He also showed me a piece called the Crow and Weasel produced by The Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis that he had designed animal costumes for. This production, he said, happened before any live performances of The Lion King, which used a similar method to his later on.
Seeing the amount of frills on some costumes, like Lady Bracknell from The Importance of Being Earnest, and the simplicity of others, like A Christmas Story (the play), allowed me to witness the depth and breadth of Mickelsen’s skill in designing. I was so grateful to see his life’s work, and I enjoyed spending time with this eclectic artist. He had such a wide range of talent that was beautiful to see and learn about, and my husband and I could not resist taking a piece home with us, as all designs were available for purchase. The exhibit will be showing during Pioneer Theatre Company’s run of The Rocky Horror Show, and I highly recommend arriving early to enjoy this magnificent display.