Threads of Inspiration at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

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written by Bronte Dod 


Even before she understood all the words, Susan Tsu had a love of Shakespeare.

She had a thick volume of Shakespeare’s complete works that she took on road trips when she was a child, not entirely understanding the plays, but adoring them nonetheless.

Today, Tsu manifests her love of Shakespeare through threads. Since 1993, she has been a costume designer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, combining her love of art and design with her love of theater.

One of Tsu’s projects this year is Twelfth Night, which opened for a preview on Friday, February 19. From the costume shop at the festival’s campus in Ashland, Tsu said her work designing the costumes began almost a year ago. Having that much time to “dig deep into the play” and throw around ideas is what makes the Oregon Shakespeare Festival wonderful, Tsu said.

Director Christopher Moore set Twelfth Night in 1930s Hollywood. Tsu flipped through “books and books and books” of inspiration for the costumes, inspired by old Hollywood stars such as Marlena Dietrich and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Tsu said that the work that the festival does is unparalleled in the United States—from lede time to an environment of inclusion.

“It’s exciting to me that this theater has the mission that it does of inclusivity and generating new work and hiring people of color,” she said. “There’s much that’s being done here in Oregon that could truly be a model to other theaters in the country as well.”

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Designs provided by Susan Tsu

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival was founded by Angus Bowmer in 1935, premiering with Twelfth Night. Since then, it has produced each of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays three times over. In 2015, the festival launched a campaign to restage the entire canon within one decade.

The festival, which officially runs from February to November each year, has a huge impact on Ashland’s economy. In 2013, the festival brought $90 million into the local economy and $260 million to Oregon.

Tsu graduated from Carnegie Mellon University where she is a professor of costume design. On top of her teaching schedule, Tsu designs costumes for two to three plays a year for various productions around the country.

“I tell my friends that Ashland is a little bit like a wonderful hamlet of art that more people should know about,” Tsu said.

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