Interview with Jordyn Smiley, Costume Designer of Plays by Young Writers

Playwrights Project will produce its 35th annual festival of Plays by Young Writers at The Joan B. Kroc Theatre on January 29 – February 1, 2020. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 561 plays submitted by students from across the state. Three scripts will receive full professional productions, and one script will receive a staged reading in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

Jordyn Smiley teaches Fashion & Costume Design at San Diego Mesa College. She has built costumes for The Old Globe, McCarter Theatre, Two River Theater, and Disney Imagineering. Previous designs include Romeo, Romeo & JulietThe Jungle BookCrimes of the HeartAssassinsGlorious OnesAll Shook Up. This is Jordyn’s fourth Plays by Young Writers Festival.

What’s your vision for this year’s plays?
My vision for this year’s plays is to create distinct costumes that help tell the playwrights’ stories. I want to be true to the playwrights’ intents, and allow the costumes to accentuate their idea of who each character is. 

Describe a couple images that come to mind when you’re conceptualizing the costumes for this year’s plays. 
Since each play is so different, it is hard to describe a single image that works for each play. For Love is Blind, I was struck immediately by the idea of asymmetry and sharp, angular lines for the costumes.  There is no room for personal feelings or free choice in their world, so I wanted the clothes to reflect the feeling of a sterile, rigid society.  However, things get a little complicated and muddled for the main character, Amber, so I envisioned her wearing garments with lots of sheer layers to show the depth of her feelings. I was really inspired by a single image I found of layers of white fabric closing in smaller and smaller until you get to the center, revealing a muddy shade of gray. This felt like a vision into Amber’s core – something that she feels deep inside, but is trying to hide from the world.   

What questions did you ask about the characters as you started to visualize them?
I started with the typical character questions, such as how old are they , what season is it, where is the action taking place, etc.  Then I went further into each character and asked what do they want in the play, what kind of a life have they had until now, what type of message do they want to send, etc. For example, in Feliz Cumpleaños, it was important to me that all the characters look like believable high school students,  however it was equally important that each one had their own style that reflected their personality.  Cami is such a strong character and at times puts up a bit of a wall while trying to act tough, but really she’s scared and insecure inside.  I tried to reflect this by putting her in trendy clothing while she’s with her peers, with crisper fabrics and bolder colors and prints, but when she is at home you see her in soft, comfy sweats.  Home is where she can let down her guard and show her vulnerability, which is reflected in her clothing choices.

This is my fourth year working with the Plays by Young Writers Festival and I’m thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful production! 

The Plays by Young Writers Festival’s public performance will take place February 1, 2020 at 7:30pm.

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or at
Tickets can be purchased on Playwrights Project’s website.