Star Dresser 

An interview with the woman behind the costumes at Virginia Repertory Theatre.

click to enlarge ASH DANIEL

Sue Griffin, costume director for the Virginia Repertory Theatre, puts in hours of creativity and meticulous effort to ensure that every last button enhances the world of a show. The audience never sees her take a bow, but if you've gone to Richmond theater in the last 30 years, you've likely seen her costumes. We chatted with Griffin to find out more about the woman behind the fabric.


Belle: When did you first become interested in costume design, and how did you get involved professionally?

Griffin: When I was growing up in Connecticut, my family came down to Williamsburg in the early '50s. I was in second grade, and I saw those women walking around in colonial dresses and I was fascinated. I'd never seen anything quite like that before.

When I was in college I majored in art history, which was the closest I could get to [costume design]. I went to New York City and became a buyer. I ended up in Norfolk and Richmond, and I was a buyer for Miller and Rhoads in the '60s. And then finally I got a job with TheatreVirginia in 1981. Thankfully the director there was looking for somebody and he hired me. I had never been in a true costume shop before, but then I was running one. I was there for 21 years.

What is it like for you when you first see the costumes on stage?

It used to be terrifying. I've gotten to the point where for me the dress rehearsal is probably the most exciting night of the whole production. I see that as a problem-solving situation, because you can't know how everything is going to fit or look on the set or actually move. The four or five days going up to the actual opening are really challenging and exciting, how to refine what you've actually done. Opening night you're amazed.

How important do you think costumes are to the world of the show and telling that story?

To me, it's very important. Many people after a show will talk about the set or the lights, things that are a little more obvious to them. But in a way that's good too. Costumes shouldn't overtake the actors. They should feel comfortable in them. But for a period show you're looking for something showy, like with "My Fair Lady." You want them to really be focusing on, for certain scenes, the costumes. And that's really nice when people will applaud a scene when a dress is revealed.

As a woman, how have you experienced the Richmond arts community?

As far as being a woman in theater, it's a very nongendered industry. I've never, never felt that being a woman was a tremendous advantage or disadvantage. There are guys in the costuming world, and they are just as successful as many of the women. I feel that theater is extremely open as far as accepting all kinds of people. I doubt that you can find an industry where that is more so.


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