Courtney Flores: Costume Design and Identity

by Porsche McGovern
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For this post in Illuminations, I interviewed Courtney Flores, a San Francisco Bay Area-based freelance costume designer, with strong community ties to the Latinx Theatre Commons. In this interview, Courtney talks about encouraging theatre designers and technicians of color, shows she’d love to design, and how her identity influences her work.

Past theatres Ms. Flores has worked with include Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, GA; Borderlands Theater in Tucson, AZ; Magic Theatre, Golden Thread Productions, Campo Santo, and Cutting Ball Theater, all in San Francisco, CA; Shotgun Players in Berkeley, CA; and Los Altos Stage Company in Los Altos, CA.  Ms. Flores is also member of Campo Santo and a Co-Founding Member of Bay Area Latino Theatre Artists Network. Currently she is the lead curator for La Esquinita, an online journal series on HowlRound, profiling Latinx theatre designers and technicians.

In The Heights at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, GA. Photo by Chris Bartelski.
In The Heights at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, GA. Photo by Chris Bartelski.

1. How has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?

As far as I know, I don’t think it has harmed it. I think it’s helped it more than anything. I’ve been able to join theatre groups focused on what I identify as, like Campo Santo and so by doing that, I’ve become friends and colleagues with other people, and that turns into a job. I’ve been friends with Anthony Rodriguez at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, GA, through the Latinx Theatre Commons and because of that relationship, he took a chance and asked me to design a show. That was really cool, because I got to work with someone I like and respect, and that came organicly. Now that I think about it, I’ve gotten a lot of my jobs through specific-demographic theatres.

2. How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?

I identify as white and Latina, and I’ve always identified that way, but I don’t think I noticed that it made a difference until the past five or six years.  I’ve been embracing it more and being more vocal about it.  Because most of my life, everybody has assumed I’m white because of how I look.  My dad is Mexican and Puerto Rican and my mom is white. Also, about 5 or 6 years ago I became friends with Marisela Treviño Orta and Tlaloc Rivas, through Twitter.  And right around then is when the LTC formed and I got involved, and it took off, and that’s when that particular organization, and the work we do in it, started influencing my career more.      

The Most Dangerous Highway in the World with Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco, CA.
The Most Dangerous Highway in the World with Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco, CA.

 

 

3. What would you like people of color considering or in the early stages of a theatre career to know?  Is there any advice you wish you'd be given?

You are not alone. There are other people out there just like you, although you may not see them. Don’t give up—you deserve to be here. We need more people of color to be theatre designers and technicians. I don’t think society or the school systems think it’s a valuable job, or that it is a job. I came into it by accident, through fashion design, when I finished school and figured it wasn’t a good fit. Then I wanted to do costume design for film, but no schools I found had a specific program with that particular concentration. So I found a university that had a concentration in costumes for theatre, and I did theatre, and ended up falling in love with it.  I was given a lot of good advice. Always know what’s going on in your field. Take care of yourself, because this job can be very stressful. Look out for how you’re being compensated. Don’t get taken advantage of.

4. Who was a role model of yours in your respective field? Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?

Growing up, there were no people who looked like me doing what I was doing, so I looked up to whoever seemed cool and was doing what I wanted to do. My instructors in fashion and costume design have mostly been gay men. In undergrad, I had one female instructor who really encouraged me, Regina Cate. I was amazed at how talented and fast my instructors were. They still blow me away. A lot of people, friends and colleagues, helped me figure out how to navigate this field through conversations. My best friend since undergrad, Dawn Monique Williams, and I have discussions all the time about how to navigate the theatre world. Regina Garcia and Ulises Alcala have come in and helped a lot in giving me advice as a designer. With all these people, it’s never been a conversation about being a person of color so much as being a person in this theatre world and how to approach work. 

Real Women Have Curves at Douglas Morrisson Theatre in Hayward, CA. Photo by Terry Sullivan.
Real Women Have Curves at Douglas Morrisson Theatre in Hayward, CA. Photo by Terry Sullivan.

5. Please tell us about your work with the Latinx Theatre Commons.

I’m on the steering committee now, which is a group of people that actively work within and for the LTC in different aspects on a volunteer basis, and there are different pods within that group of people. I serve on two pods—the first is the Café Onda pod, trying to get people to write for the Howlround journal on topics that relate to Latinx theatre makers. I’m also on the communications pod; we maintain the Facebook and Twitter accounts, write the monthly newsletter, and help write the public pieces that represent the LTC. We try to go to the convenings, where we talk about general issues concerning the LTC and the specific issues of the particular city we’re in that pertain to Latinx theatre makers.

Nogales at Magic Theatre, San Francisco, CA. Photos by Jennifer Reily.
Nogales at Magic Theatre, San Francisco, CA. Photos by Jennifer Reily.

6. Are there any shows you’d love to costume design and why?

There are certain shows I would like to do for costume reasons and there are others where I love the script and think it’s an amazing piece of work. Showboat, because I didn’t get to do it for my final project in grad school. It spans several decades and it’s an important show. I’m a big fan of large, epic productions. I think that could be fun. Eurydice, by Sarah Ruhl, because I’ve been asked to do it a few times and it’s never worked out where I could design a production. The show could go so many ways and you could do a lot with it, costume-wise. Anything by Nilo Cruz. I had to do a paper on him in undergrad and read everything he had published.  I did one show by him, Lorca in a Green Dress, and I was hooked. I like how his characters are written.