Montana State University

Mountains and Minds

Clothes that “doth proclaim the man” November 22, 2016 by Denise Hoepfner • Published 11/22/16

Much ado goes on behind the curtains before they rise for a performance of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, Montana State University’s traveling acting troupe that performs the works of Shakespeare throughout Montana and in communities in North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington.

The director infuses the play with a twist of creative juices. Wannabe Romeos and Juliets audition. Line-by-line, actors become their characters. Lighting designers illuminate a mood, a moment, a time. Stage designers set the scenes.

Then there’s the costume designer, tasked with harnessing the director’s vision and weaving it into being by way of fabric, ribbon, felt and fur.

As MSIP’s resident costume designer for the past 15 years, Claudia Boddy has risen to this task, dressing the royalty, commoners and ne’er-do-wells that color the tales of the Bard.

Things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing

Boddy’s work each year begins as soon as a new production is announced. First she meets to suss out the director’s vision.
Next, she begins researching—her favorite part of the process—creating an inspiration folder of clippings, fabrics and photographs.

Many of Boddy’s ideas come from her research. For instance, when, in 2014, MSIP Artistic Director Kevin Asselin decided to place The Taming of the Shrew in the Wild West, Boddy and the shop manager took photos of the Western artifacts at MSU’s Museum of the Rockies and visited Virginia City.

Boddy then begins sketching, keeping in mind the minutiae necessary to transport audiences to another place and time. Except for a few staple pieces, the costumes are created from scratch each season.

Because the troupe performs outdoors, Boddy considers challenges the actors will face.

“They’re dealing with mud, wood chips, ducks and grass,” she said. “They play multiple parts with quick changes and no real dressing room, so I have to figure out how to make it all work.”

While she’s designing, Boddy keeps a running dialogue with the director and actors.

That collaborative nature is just one of Boddy’s qualities that contributes to the program’s success, Asselin said.
“Claudia is truly one of the most collaborative designers I’ve worked with, both as an actor and director,” he said. “She can easily set aside her own aesthetic and adjust her design to meet the needs of a production and the comfort level of our actors.”

To thine own self be true

Boddy came to Bozeman in 1998 by way of Chicago, where she spent a dozen years designing costumes for the city’s vibrant theater scene. During much of that time, she also taught design classes in Roosevelt University’s Performing Arts Department, where she served as resident designer.

In Chicago, Boddy worked with notables such as Tony Award-winner André De Shields; playwright John Logan, who would later pen Oscar-nominated screenplays for Gladiator and The Aviator; and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, whose play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Boddy worked on at Chicago’s famed Goodman Theatre. Joe Turner was Boddy’s third production at the Goodman. She previously had designed costumes for two separate productions of the play Marvin’s Room, which ran for several years, including performances in England and off-Broadway, and won theater awards in Chicago and New York.

Boddy was in her eighth year as the resident costume designer of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater when her husband broached the idea of moving to Montana.

“At the time, I was doing six to seven shows a year,” she said. “I thought he was sort of nuts for wanting to move.”
But after some self-reflection, Boddy agreed to move.

Hearing there wasn’t much costume design work in Bozeman, Boddy decided to pursue a teaching career and enrolled at MSU.She graduated in 2001 with her bachelor’s degree in French and teaching certifications in French, art and drama.
Shortly before graduation, an art instructor suggested Boddy talk to Denise Massman, then costume designer for MSIP, to see if she needed help. As it turned out, she did. Boddy also landed a part-time position as a French teacher and began juggling the two jobs.

In 2001, Massman left MSIP, turning her work over to Boddy. The increased workload from Massman’s departure, along with recent additions of a winter show and the addition of the company’s elementary school tour “Montana Shakes!” prompted Boddy to retire from teaching to focus solely on her design work.

“I loved teaching, but designing is my passion,” she said.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves

The birth of Boddy’s passion can be traced back to the many places she lived while her parents worked in diplomatic relations. Born in Long Island, she also lived in Italy, Texas, New York, Morocco, France and England before moving to the U.S. to attend college at the University of Utah, where a work-study program would set the stage for her career in theater.

“In the interview, I told them I didn’t know what they would be able to find for me because, as an art major, all I could do was sew and draw,” Boddy said. “The woman told me they needed someone in the costume department.”

A week into her new job, Boddy changed the focus of her major to costume design.

“I realized costume designing was the kind of art I like,” she said. “It’s down and dirty; it’s different every day; you need to think on your feet; and you need to be very observant. It tied together my passions for culture and language.”

Since then, Boddy’s work has been lauded in Chicago’s major newspapers and by industry professionals.

“Where would we be without you? Naked and lost, most likely,” wrote Denis O’Hare, an award-winning actor in theater, movies and television.

Perhaps the most cherished compliment came from Pat Zipprodt, a renowned costume designer whose skill in manipulating fabric inspired Boddy’s craft.

“Your production looked excellent,” Zipprodt wrote of Boddy’s work on the play Terra Nova. “Lovely colors/textures elevate the reality up into that mysterious level called ‘theatrical realism.’”

While the thought of retiring might occasionally flit across Boddy’s mind, it has yet to roost.

“Whenever I wonder if I could possibly quit, I realize that whenever we travel I’m always taking in everything,” Boddy said. “It’s like my brain is a huge junkyard of visual thoughts and images that would never get used. I need to be able to let it all out.” ■