Interview with Costume Designer Jordyn Smiley

Playwrights Project produced its 33rd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 20 – January 27, 2018. The festival featured winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 432 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts received full professional productions, and two scripts received staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.


Jordyn Smiley teaches Costuming and Makeup at Mesa College and Mira Costa College. She has built costumes for The Old Globe, McCarter Theatre, Two River Theatre, and Disney Imagineering. This is her second year designing costumers for the Plays by Young Writers Festival.

What was your vision for the plays this year?

Since each of the plays are so different, it’s hard to come up with a singular vision for all of them.  My main goal as the costume designer was to help the audience understand the characters, their struggles and conflicts, and hopefully see them as someone they can relate to.  I stay true to the playwright’s original vision while adding levels of depth to the story through the characters’ appearances.  For example, in Fire Hazard, it was very important to me that the two characters look like realistic high schoolers, but be vastly visually different.  I wanted to show the disparity between them, and how they’ve been treated by society, their peers and their family has effected their attitude, which gets reflected in their costumes.  What someone looks like when they are trying to show that they have it all together, versus someone who has been burned by the system so many times that he is over trying to impress.

When designing Sina and the Eel, however, I wanted to keep the fantasy / folklore feeling, and not have the costumes be too grounded in reality.  I pulled elements from different Polynesian cultures, used a mix of colors and prints, and found an elements of each character to focus on.  For example, at the end we find out that Sina may become the Goddess of the Moon because of her beauty, so there are certain hints to that in her costume, and her dress is fitted with a flowy skirt to emphasize her innocence.  Kahia on the other hand is a stronger, more warrior-like woman, who is ready to fight for her people.  I chose to put her in a sarong with a fitted halter tank to show that she has deep tribal roots, and manages to dress in clothes that would be easy for her to move in.

What are some images that come to mind when you’re conceptualizing the costumes for this year’s plays?

I guess for Sina and the Eel, it was Maori tattoos, bark cloth dress, and Hula Ki’i puppets.  For Some-Body, I have this one picture I found in the very beginning of the process that really struck me.  It’s a shot of three kids on bikes, 2 boys and a girl.  They are standing next to each other on their bikes and they have their arms around each other’s shoulders.  To me, that image portrayed such strong friendship and a carefree innocence of youth, that I wanted to transfer to my costumes for those characters.  By using bring colors and graphic prints, I think I was able to do this successfully.  The kids in the play encounter something very serious, but it’s how they let their imagination transform the possibilities of a situation that reminds us that they are only kids.

Some-Body photo by Ken Jacques-13_SMALL
Cast of Some-Body in Jordyn’s costume designs


What questions did you ask the characters as you started to visualize them?

I always start with the basics, like how old are they, what is their personality, what do they like / dislike, where are they from, what season is it, where does the play take place, etc.  Then I move onto more detailed questions, like what is important to them, what do they want, how do they feel about life, do they have a lot of friends, how much time did they spend putting together their outfit?  What do they want others to know (or not know) about them?  Is there anything about the character that gets revealed later on during the play that I can hint at?  Is there another hidden layer to this person that I can show?

What do you hope the young playwrights will learn from this experience?

I hope the young playwrights learn about what it means to bring a play to life, and what a rewarding experience it can be to collaborate with a team of actors, directors, designers, stage managers and crew!  There is so much that goes into the process, and if you open yourself up to the creative experience, and explore possibilities, the result can be amazing!  Mostly I hope that the playwrights are happy with how we’ve presented their work, and enjoyed their experience so much that they are inspired to continue writing plays!

Director George Ye, Fire Hazard Playwright Cassandra, and Costume Designer Jordyn Smiley


Jordyn sharing her vision to Playwright Savannah Spatafora at a production meeting


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s