Uplifting Identities Through Various Forms

Jacey Mismash, Staff Writer 

Sarah Bahr works in the theatre department at Augsburg University and also works with different theatre companies in the local area as a costume designer as well. She helps students learn the ins-and-outs of costume design and also helps them venture into the land of hair and makeup. 

JM: When did you start working in hair, makeup and costumes, and how did you get into it?

SB: I started sewing with my mom when I was four years old. She was a quilter, and so she taught me how to use a sewing machine…We were always sewing Barbie clothes and doll clothes. I did not really understand that could be a career until I got into high school and I thought that fashion would be a viable career choice. But then I started getting into more theater, and in college, I got involved with the theater department and started working in the costume shop and was like, “Oh, this is it”! I mean, I like making clothes, but I like storytelling and collaborative art-making.

JM: What was your favorite show you’ve ever worked on and why?

SB: Right now I’m really excited about doing “Don Giovanni” with the Minnesota Opera. It’ll open in May, so it’s a long time out, but working with the Minnesota Opera is really exciting because they’re such a big company and they really support their artists. The director and I are getting along really well… our ideas are clicking… we’re really doing punchy colors and patterns and doing a lot of color symbolism. It’s just that kind of process that makes it all worthwhile… We’re uplifting voices [with this story]; there are three women in the opera that are dealing with trauma, and we’re uplifting women’s voices, which I think is very important. The opera is such an old form, so to be able to do that really inspires me so like right now, that’s what I’m about.

JM: Since you have worked at a bunch of different theaters and with a bunch of different people, what are some of the differences you see working at Augsburg in comparison to other spaces you’ve been in before?

SB: I think how we differ is that we’re a very small community, so there’s a lot of experience students can get… [Being in] Minneapolis … a lot of our adjunct faculty are also working artists, and I think that’s so unique… But then, the difference between working at Augsburg and a professional theatre is just that big jump [to working] with all professionals… I think the ability to learn is still really important because you can kind of like “fail” but learn from your mistakes. In professional theatre, sometimes there’s no room to make a mistake. 

For access to the rest of the interview, visit the Echo’s website. 

JM: What are some strides you have seen in the theatre world that you have seen, and what do you think could still be improved?

SB: [Designing costumes, wigs, hair, and makeup] …it’s been kind of pushed aside as women’s work, and not as much emphasis has been placed on its overall value and monetary value. I’ve worked at theatre companies where I’ve had to ask for more [labor or materials] budget because they’re asking me to do something that they’re not giving me enough money to do… they’ve been able to get away with it. I’m part of a costume enclave group that deals with costumes, lights, makeup, wardrobe, and we communicate about how to educate the theater community about how we need to be valued on many levels. [We want to] get past that old school way of thinking about costumes, so “Oh, it’s just clothes!”… So you do know how long it takes to build a dress? You can’t just go to the 19th-century store and buy a bustle gown! A big change that I’m dealing with right now, and I think other costume designers are too is being respectful and representative of actors that are either non-binary or gender fluid, because costumes are often so gendered… There are different ways to build them, there are different styles that work on gendered bodies, but when we’re dealing with people that don’t identify with a gender, how do we do that? I don’t have answers, but I think it’s a really important thing that we’re all thinking about, and slowly but surely I think we will be able to communicate and come up with a better way to not gender our work so much.