One of the most inventive costume designers working in the United States today is West Virginia University Theatre professor Mary McClung, who directs the Costume Shop at the Creative Arts Center.

An alumna of WVU who studied costume design and puppetry in the College of Creative Arts in the 1990s, McClung is known for what one reviewer referred to as “lots of fine-fangled decoration.”

Her designs have been attracting attention for quite some time, and the costumes she designed for a WVU dance concert last year recently received a 2010 Design Expo award presented by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, Inc.

A panel of distinguished judges selected McClung and 13 other designers from across the country for awards.

The five costumes she designed for the piece titled “The Elementals” represented the various elements and energies of our world, including wind, water, earth, fire and the moon.

“I had heard a Gamelan piece performed at a WVU World Music concert and I wanted to create a piece that had a community of creatures interacting with each other, connected by Indonesian music,” she said.

Her expertise as a puppetry designer shows in these unique costumes.

McClung received an MFA in costume design from WVU, and also studied puppetry with Professor Joann Siegrist, an internationally known professor and puppetry designer who leads the program at WVU – one of only three university puppetry programs in the country.

A native of Belington, W.Va., McClung graduated from Philip-Barbour High School and was always interested in art. “I was always drawing. I drew on the walls,” she says laughing.

She earned a BFA in ceramics at Alfred University, but even then, her eventual transfer to puppetry and costume design seemed inevitable.

“At that time, I was creating realistic pots that had teeth and eyeballs, but that kind of thing was not really being done back then, and it was seen as ‘kitch.’ That’s when I started to think maybe this was not what I was meant to do.”

She was back home in Belington operating a small pottery studio after graduating, when a friend encouraged her to visit WVU and talk to Siegrist.

Before she knew it, Siegrist had offered her a teaching assistantship and she was on her way. During her years at WVU her enormous talent was evident in her designs for shows such as “Sleeping Beauty” in which she was able to combine her costume design and puppetry skills.

“The moment that Mary opened her portfolio and I saw her drawings and illustrations, I knew what a true talent she was and that we had to have her here as a student,” Siegrist said.

McClung graduated in 1994 and went to work for Animax in Nashville, one of the best-known design companies in the United States, where she worked on projects for Disney, Children’s Television Workshop and Universal Studios.

She then accepted a teaching position at the University of Dallas because, as she says, “I enjoy working side-by-side with students while building the shows.”

Her designs for “The Beggar’s Opera” in 2002 won a Dallas Critics award and around that time, while working at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, she met her future husband, Alan McEwen, a lighting and sound designer.

She then moved to Washington State and taught at Whitman College in Walla Walla, where Alan was the lead lighting designer and technical director. All the while, she stayed in touch with her old friends at WVU and when the opportunity came to head the costume design program, she came back to Morgantown four years ago. Alan also joined the Division of Theatre and Dance, teaching lighting and sound design.

“I always thought about coming back here,” she says. “The facility, the CAC, is really great. There is so much potential here, but it is also isolated, so you really have to put yourself out there.”

Fortunately, “putting it out there,” is what she does best. WVU audiences still remember the attention-getting costumes she created for last October’s production of “Dracula” that featured big hair, big teeth and masks that were half one face and half another face.

“Dracula was fun,” she says, smiling.

McClung enjoys her work at WVU because it gives her the opportunity to experiment with new materials and to use them in practical applications on stage.

She and fellow designer Sharon Goeres, a former classmate who now manages the Costume Shop, work closely with their students, often putting in long hours before the shows. They like to experiment lots of modern materials, such as thermoplastics.

But McClung says they also use pretty much anything else they can get their hands on.

“For example, all of the costumes for the ‘The Elementals’ were made out of old wedding dresses that someone donated to the Costume Shop,” she said.

“I love using trash. Part of the ‘Fire’ costume for the ‘The Elementals’ was also made from old milk jugs, cut into pieces and spray painted.

“We’re always doing things like that.”



CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts

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