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Civic costume designer brings SpongeBob to life

Animated show musical promises to be fun time for audiences of all ages

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre's "The SpongeBob Musical" opens July 23 at Arts United Center.

Thom Hofrichter

Whatzup Features Writer

Published July 13, 2022

Up until a week ago, I had never seen an episode of the popular animated Nickelodeon show, SpongeBob SquarePants. Seeing as how I had to write this preview of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s production of The SpongeBob Musical, which runs July 23-31 at Arts United Center, I went to the library and checked out a number of DVDs so I could acquaint myself with the source material. 

What I found was an amazingly enlightened and entertaining piece of pop culture. SpongeBob and the collection of oddball characters who populate Bikini Bottom, which is located on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, are in many ways stand-ins for us and for the various types of human beings we encounter every day. And somehow, these creatures always find a way to put aside their differences and move forward for the good of their world: A message we could all learn to embrace in our daily lives.

The other major question I had after starting work on this article was, “Will I enjoy this material even though I’m an adult?” To that I emphatically answer, “Yes!” 

While this is definitely great for children of all ages, because it’s goofy, silly, and fun, there is also an intelligence behind the work that will satisfy adults. And both demographics will love the wonderful music. It is an amazing score that has contributions from David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Steven Tyler, Sara Bareilles, Lady A, They Might Be Giants, and The Flaming Lips, to name a few. 

If you are depressed, this will cheer you up. If you like big Broadway musicals, this is a good one for you. And if you love the Sponge, you will dig this.

The other question I found interesting was, “How do you move not only from the medium of television to the live stage, but from cartoon drawings to a three-dimensional show?”

My curiosity took me to the Civic Theatre‘s new resident costume designer, Travis White, who helped me with my inquires. Below is our interaction, edited for length and clarity.

Q: How do you take a well-known and loved cartoon, and turn it into a stage show?

 A:  I was aware of the cartoon, but had never actually watched it. And like you, once I saw a few episodes and the movie, I was a fan. This one is a really fun show. 

I began this like any other production. I read the script. I watched the original production. That’s not always possible, but the filmed version is available on Amazon Prime. 

I started making sketches and gathering ideas to create our version. The original Broadway production covered a lot of that ground for us. 

The concept for this show is that these are real people in these situations. Their world is strange, for sure, but grounded in humanity. This isn’t a theme park show. I worked at Universal Studios for a short time. One of my duties was helping the performers into the giant mascot SpongeBob and Patrick costumes. This is totally different. Our SpongeBob is a real person. With a much smaller budget and time frame, I made plans based on that criterion. Meetings with the other designers and directors keep moving the project forward. 

When the cast gets decided, for me, it’s go time. There are 35 people in this show that need clothing from the world of SpongeBob. My team and I have been working for a few months to accomplish that.

Q: This is your first production for Fort Wayne Civic. Can you tell me a little about yourself, and how you came to us?

A: I am from Joplin, Missouri, a town in the southwest corner of the state known as the birthplace of Langston Hughes and for the record-breaking tornado in 2011. 

I started drawing and painting when I was 3. I discovered theater in high school. I went on to study acting at Missouri State University in Springfield, all the while continuing my passion for art. In my sophomore year, I was cast as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. For that production, I had numerous time-consuming fittings for my costume, which was Victorian drag. Through conversation with the designers of that show, I talked about my fine art training. The costume design professors said, “You know, there is a way to combine your art with your theater.” I had made my own costumes in high school and community theater plays. It seemed obvious once they pointed it out, and I decided it was a better career path. 

After getting my degree I supported myself as a freelance costumer. Much of my steady work has been with a costume rental house in Kansas City. I’ve spent most summers working for Starlight Theatre preparing their summer Broadway tours, and also spent two years with Opera Theatre St. Louis as a stitcher on high-end, well-tailored period garments.

Q: And now you will spend the upcoming season at FW Civic?

A: Yes, I am the full-time costume designer and costume shop manager for this season, and hopefully, many to come. I am excited about this job for several reasons. Probably the biggest is the ability to come home to my partner and my pets at the end of the day. Until now, I have often been on the road, being gone weeks or months at a time. Being able to go into the costume shop at Arts United every day, creating costumes, working with the volunteers and my colleagues, putting these shows together is thrilling. I love my job. 

Q: I think I speak for the entire theater community when I say we are glad to have you here. 

A: I had never been to Fort Wayne before accepting this position. We have only been here two months. Everyone has been so warm and inviting, my partner, Dakota, and I have fallen in love with this city. I’m looking forward to the SpongeBob costumes being my first thank you to Fort Wayne.

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