Constructing Characters: Costume Design with Victoria Krawchuk

November 30, 2016

Victoria Krawchuk is a Calgary based designer returning to Rosebud Theatre after her stunning set and costume design for 2013's 'Our Town'. Currently she's responsible for the irrepressible and energetic costume design of 'Miracle on 34th Street'. Select costume design credits include The Transalta Grandstand Show (Calgary Stampede); Richard III (The Shakespeare Company); Shadowlands (Fire Exit Theatre); and set and costume design for Fight or Flight Response (Verb Theatre). Victoria received a BFA in Theatre Design in from the University of Alberta in 2013 and co-owns Little Lion Workshop.

First off, tell us a little about yourself as a designer. How’d you get started in theatre design?

I got started in theatre when I was 15, volunteering in the wardrobe at Storybook Theatre in Calgary. At that time, I had seen Lord of the Rings, and felt so inspired to be creative or do something in film. I loved to sew, and I learned a lot from the Storybook costume designer, which landed me various volunteer costume design positions from then on. At 19, I went to University of Alberta, and took their BFA theatre design program, learning about sets, lights, and costume.

What’s your favorite thing to look for as you go about creating?

In any project, we are all drawn to things that others wouldn’t be drawn to (as Morris reminded me) - that’s the thing that gives each show its specific flavor. I look for things that I like, whether on Pinterest, researching, finding something from the period I adore, or when I’m out and notice how people dress on the street, in a mall, out for dinner. Sometimes I find inspiration by other types of artists, sometimes it’s the color or texture that inspire my costume palette. Those sparks of insight are my favorite thing to discover, and inspire my creation.

Costume Rendering: Kris Kringle. Design by Victoria Krawchuk.

Can you tell us a little about your process?

It starts with reading the script a few times, noting elements that ‘must’ be in the show, and then doing a lot of costume research… in this case, 1948. I look at a lot of vintage catalogs (Sears) and sewing patterns because those tend to not be so ‘high-fashion’. Then, talking to the director, I use our first chat making sure we’re on the same page in terms of the characters (who they are as people), and  our second meeting focuses on what they’re actually wearing. From there, I work on rough and final designs, thinking about color, who needs to ‘pop’ on stage, who needs to blend in, and what color says about the character (hopefully subconsciously) to the audience. Sometimes though, performers discover new things about their character in rehearsal, which puts a different spin on the design. I think that’s what keeps it fresh. Designs for this show were due in April-May, but there were discoveries in October that changed some of the looks. Specifically, a Stenographer’s belief in Santa changed her from being in black & white to a soft orange dress she now wears in the show.

Costume Rendering: Doris Walker. Design by Victoria Krawchuk
Costume Rendering: Doris Walker. Design by Victoria Krawchuk

How do you make your design more than just 'era-appropriate' clothes?

For me, it’s about going inside the characters’ heads and thinking… Where would they go shopping? What would be most important in their wardrobe? What are they dressing up for? Do they care what others think? What does their job require them to do? As I search, I’m drawn to certain things to reflect that character. Sometimes color, or the cut, or pattern.

Some of the characters I have very specific feelings about, while others I truly went with my gut. I wanted Doris to look icy cold, hence the navy blue and cool grey tones she wears for much of the play. I wanted Fred to be warm and inviting, with lightness about him. Kris Kringle, of course, in red as a civilian and as Santa - but I wanted it pretty subtle, hence the cranberry jacket he wears. The transformation Paul Muir (the director), wanted to create, was that belief in Santa caused a noticeable change to a character’s costume. Throughout the play, when Susan, Doris, even Macy and Gimbel believe - they don brighter scarves and hats suggestive of the transformation inside.

You’re also one half of Little Lion Workshop – Tell us about what you do, what you make?

Little Lion Workshop is the company I own alongside my husband, Curtis. We create custom commissions of costumes, props, and scenic elements. Our focus as been cosplay commissions - you know, those people who dress up in stunning handmade costumes and go to Comic Expos like the ones in Calgary and Edmonton? We essentially take a drawing from a video game, movie, or anime, and try to bring it to life as accurately (and to scale) as possible. It’s a really nice break from costume design, because I’m still creating, which is what I love, but don’t have to be the design force behind it. I get to just build something I see.

Costume Renderings: Susan Walker & Fred Gailey. Design by Victoria Krawchuk.

What’s one of your favorite pieces?

In September, I built prosthetic silicone special effects makeup pieces to go on a cosplayer’s face (Mileena, Mortal Kombat). It was so satisfying doing something I had never done before - making a mold, creating silicone prosthetics. I was pretty happy with the end result!

Do you have a dream project on your bucket list?

In University we got to do a non-realized project in a 'found space', where you take an unconventional space, and use its elements to make it a place to do theatre. I would really love to use some sort of old, abandoned space to tell a story.

What’s currently inspiring you, artistically?

I’m most inspired by art that is intentional about driving emotion through beauty (and sometimes juxtaposition). My Instagram feed is filled with all sorts of different ‘makers’ other than theatre designers. [People] who create their living as painters, illustrators, cosplayers, tattoo artists, jewelry makers, makeup artists, etc… The way they see the world so differently than me, but still manage to tell story, is what continually inspires and challenges me to continue to create my art.

Cassia Schmidt, Mike Thiessen, and Peter Church play the Macy's executives in Miracle on 34th Street. Photo by Morris Ertman.

Favorite Christmas movie?

Growing up it was a tradition for my mom and I to watch Alastair Sim’s Christmas Carol, on Christmas Eve. Now, as an adult, I still convince my husband to watch it with me Christmas Eve.

Favorite Christmas cookie?

Chai Shortbread!

What’s up next for you, and where?

In February, I’m set and costume designing two shows in Calgary (Macbeth at CYPT, and Bridge to Terabithia at Storybook). After that I’ll be in full swing designing costumes for the Calgary Stampede Grandstand show. (We start working on it in December, but it opens in July.) This will be my third year designing it, for over 120 young Canadians and guest talent.

See more photos of Victoria’s work at

Constructing Characters: Costume Design with Victoria Krawchuk

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