“Happiest Job on Earth”

When is a theatre costume design rendering a work of art?  Actually, almost always. caminoreal And that is certainly the case with the designs of Alina Bokovikova.  A browse through her portfolio is a joyous glimpse into the whimsical worlds she has helped created for dozens of plays and musicals.  In addition to the traditional character/costume drawing and attached fabric swatches, she sometimes adds photographs of real people indicative of the time and place she is trying to evoke, or uses materials to help develop the mood – like shiny plastic paper for a shimmery “puttin’ on the ritz” dress, or a border of burlap fringe on a design for costumes for a play in a poor, rural setting.


Born in Ukraine and raised in Siberia, Alina moved to the United States 15 years ago and is now a citizen.  In her view, the most marked difference between the Russian and American cultures is that Americans generally follow the rules, whereas in Russia one learns early to break them in order to survive.  She said that “one of the reasons I decided to work in the arts here is that my natural inclination to transgress rules can be fully realized in theater, and it even helps me to make bold choices.”  She told me her work as a costume designer is “the happiest job on earth.”

Alina was an art teacher and fine artist in Russia and earned her master’s degree in costume design from UC San Diego.  She has worked on more than 50 productions for theatre, dance and opera in Southern California and has won honors and awards including the Graig Noel Award for best Costume Design  for The  School for Lies at North Coast Repertory Theatre, an invitation to participate at the International exhibit of Costume Design at the Turn of the Century, 1990-2015 in Moscow, a  San Diego Patté Award for Costume Design for Camino Real, and those renderings were presented at the 2011 Prague Quadrennial.









In talking to costume designers over the years, I have been fascinated to learn that quite a few of them include important elements in their costume designs that the audience members will rarely be aware of; they are intended to affect the subconscious of the audience or add to the general ambience or mood of the set.  They might use certain color palettes to reflect a character’s personality or economic status; they may purposefully ill-fit a garment to evoke a reaction or assumption.  One fun example is Alina’s design concept for the Russian playwright Nicolai Gogol’s play The Inspector General.bedbug  Her knowledge of Russian allowed her to translate the name of the characters – e.g., Artemy Filippovich Zemlianika  translates to Mr. Berry;  Inspector General Khlopov  (“Klop”) to Bedbug  — so her costumes reflect those names.  Maybe the audience didn’t even realize it, but this may have affected some of them in the way the playwright intended.

After a recent move to the Bay Area, Alina is now in the midst of her first professional costume design job in this region.  Director Kirsten Brant, who is directing the second-ever production of tokyo fish story, a new play by Kimber Lee, for TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley, had worked with Alina in San Diego on shows at the Old Globe and North Coast Repertory.  When she heard that Alina had moved to the Bay Area, she asked Robert Kelley, Artistic Director of TheatreWorks, to consider Alina as costume designer for the show.  In addition to her impressive portfolio, Kelley only had to witness Alina’s sparkling passion and enthusiasm about theatre, art and collaboration to recognize a kindred spirit and to know he wanted her on the team.

tokyo fish story is set in modern-day Japan but needs, in one case at least, a costume using or evoking a vintage Obi silk.  Alina enjoyed sourcing certain materials and fabrics by visiting and getting inspiration from San Francisco’s Japan Town and the Asian Art Museum.

Alina Bokovikova

Alina Bokovikova

Although it is much more complicated than 10 steps, following is my attempt to describe Alina’s approach to costume design based on our conversations.  So, with an understanding that she does much more than this, here is my interpretation of  Alina’s 10-step process to designing costumes for a show (note how far down the list the word “budget” appears):

  1.  Read the script.  Soak up the play; read for pleasure; probably cry
  2.  Research.  Feel the play; look at art, place, story, photos, visuals and information of the time, place and story; roots of the story.  Find inspirational pieces – colors, objects, shapes,  silhouettes;  find the key to creating a cohesive concept
  3.  Talk to the director.  Come to mutual vision.
  4.  Read the play a second time.  Create a detailed table by character names and scene breakdown, noting all precise information mentioned in the script – day or night, place, costume notes,  weather, etc.
  5.  Create a Power Point presentation to share with the actors and director – variety of photos, character by character – influential pieces and visual information:  paintings, runway pictures,  street shots.  Meet with director and go over the photos.
  6.  Draw.  Create the renderings in pencil and read the script a third time thinking about quick costume changes.
  7.  Show preliminary drawings to director and talk about logistics.
  8.  Paint renderings (sometimes redo).  Pull together and update all research for Design Presentation and for actors.
  9.  Start to realize the costumes.  Talk to the costume shop; decide on a budget; source fabrics.
  10.  First fittings.  Day of Design Presentation/Table Read.  Don’t breath yet.

I have favorite costume designers in the Bay Area whose work I follow and enjoy, but a fresh new talent like Alina joining their ranks is an exciting addition for Bay Area directors to consider for their future shows.

*****tokyo (1)

You can see Alina’s work at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of tokyo fish story, starring Francis Jue and playing at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto March 9 – April 3, 2016.  Click here for tickets.

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