Costume Design a life-long passion for Beth Bennett

Bennett, an Indiana native and theatrical costume designer became interested in design as a teen.

“In high school, my art teacher was also in charge of the drama group,” Bennett said. “She encouraged me to try out for a play, and I did. I got really hooked on theatre once I found out I could combine my love of drawing and fashion with theatre and be a costume designer.”

From that time on, she knew clothing design was what she wanted to do.

Bennett studied theatrical design at DePaul University and New York University, where she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees, respectively.

While in New York, she assisted Gregg Barnes, a two-time winner of the Tony Award for Best Costume Design, on the Broadway musical Side Show in 1997.

As a freelance costume designer today, Bennett is working on costumes for the characters of “Steel Magnolias,” a local play with performances later this month. Her creative process begins with inspiration.

“I’ll create folders of images,” Bennett said. “It’s usually not so much clothing. It could be a sunset or a basket sitting on the porch – just something that conveys a mood.”

Inspiration is augmented by research. For “Steel Magnolias,” Bennett researched the clothing, hair and makeup common in the southern United States during the 1980s.

“It was more important to the director that when people see the production it looks southern,” Bennett said. “He wasn’t as tied into the time period of the 1980s.”

Her inspiration and research comes to life in her sketches. In total, Bennett created one costume for each character per scene they’re in, designing 23 outfits in total.

“You have to capture a lot of character in a costume sketch,” Bennett said. “You want your sketches to be as evocative as possible because that’s how you sell the sketch. If you draw well, you’re halfway there. And if you can capture emotion and character in the sketch, then you’re a little further.”

A challenge associated with costume design that isn’t found in fashion design is compromise, Bennett says. In theatre, costumes are influenced and restricted by mandatory factors – such as the script, the director, the choreographer, the actors and the budget.

After meeting with the cast and crew and discussing multiple costume options, Bennett starts shopping to find the clothing items and wigs she sketched the characters wearing.

“Most items are bought, not made,” Bennett said. “But sometimes it’s like looking for a needle in a hay stack.” After entire costumes have been constructed, actors are set for fittings. Some items may need alterations and others may need to be re-shopped.

“I sat down and did the math, and I realized that none of the student cast members were alive in the 1980s,” Bennett said. “So I asked them, when I say ‘1980s fashion’ to you guys – what do you think of? And the words I got over and over were big, bold, and preppy. And that’s about right.”

The big moment for a costume designer is seeing their hard work in action on stage during the performances.

“My big goal is to get to continue doing this as long as I can,” Bennett said.

See Bennett’s sketches come to life in performances of the play “Steel Magnolias,” directed by Paul Tavianini.

“Steel Magnolias” will show on Oct. 30 and 31 and Nov. 1 and 2 at Anderson University. To purchase tickets or for more information, call the university’s performing arts box office at 765-641-4140 or visit

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