As Hartford Stage director Darko Tresnjak and costume designer Linda Cho prepare for their first collaboration on the Great White Way in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, The Examiner looks back on the collaborative relationship that spans over 40 productions….

‘Twelfth Night’ marks costume designer’s 40th collaboration with Hartford Stage director

As Hartford Stage prepares to mark 50 years as a producer of theatrical productions, there’s another momentous landmark being observed during the run of the local theater‘s offering of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak marks his 40th collaboration with this production’s costume designer Linda Cho.

A graduate of the Yale School of Drama,Cho explains that she first worked with the director on a production of the opera “Orfeo and Euridice” at the Virginia Opera Association in 1998. They quickly discovered that they shared similar sensibilities and that Cho could quickly pick up on what exactly Tresnjak had in mind regarding costumes for the production.

“Looking back on our previous productions,” she says, “we eventually developed a unique vocabulary between us. We have a shorthand that enables us to know exactly what the other one is thinking. We find that we don’t really need to go on and on; we’re practically able to complete each other’s sentences.”

Cho particularly enjoys Tresnjak’s first meetings with his creative team in which he discusses the upcoming production and shares his vision for the show. “I never tire of Darko telling the story about the production,” she indicates. “He’s quite a great storyteller and you just enjoy his enthusiasm and specific ideas about the play.”

For “Twelfth Night,” she states, “he didn’t want to root it in one specific period.” Yes, she admits, his idea for the look of the production was inspired by the great designer Ertewho is mostly known for his art deco creations of the 1920’s. But Erte’s career extended into the 1960’s, so that gave Cho some flexibility to incorporate some of the designer’s related styles into her costume concepts. Erte clearly serves as the starting point, she adds.

Of Erte, who Cho clearly admires, she says, “There’s an elegance in all of his clothing that is appropriate for both men and women.” Her process, however, is to work backwards from the specific character’s attributes then design accordingly for the character’s arc. For example, her design for Viola, who is shipwrecked off the coast of Illyria at the start of the play, must accommodate the character’s cross-dressing, as she disguises herself as a boy to maneuver through the city to find her lost brother. As a result, audiences will see actress Kate McCluggagewearing long sleeves, a vest and a pulled up high collar, as well as disguised hips, to allow her to pass.

Similarly, the character of Malvolio is tricked into wearing an embarrassing costume by some of his fellow servants, a costume that Shakespeare describes in detail in dialogue. While adhering to the details, Cho has made sure to include a few surprises that she hopes the audience will enjoy.

“Twelfth Night” is not Cho’s first collaboration with Tresnjak at Hartford Stage. Last fall, she did the costumes for the new musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which was directed by Tresnjak. She subsequently joined him in San Diego for the show’s follow-up engagement at theOld Globe Theater and she will repeat her duties for the upcoming Broadway production of the work this fall at the Walter Kerr Theater. “It was fun,” she says of this musical comedy, which required actor Jefferson Mays to play eight different characters, both men and women, and all dressed by Cho. “Jefferson was an excellent collaborator,” she reports. “He came to the production with so many ideas about each of his characters that it helped my process.”

And that’s same for Tresnjak, she quickly adds. “Darko has so many ideas, that you just have to run with them.” She appreciated the chance to work on the show in San Diego, saying, “It was great to have another stab at it,” acknowledging the pun.

Prior to Tresnjak’s arrival at Hartford Stage, Cho was no stranger to the theater. In previous seasons for other directors, she had designed costumes for such shows as “The Whipping Man,” “Gee’s Bend,” and “A Raisin in the Sun.” She has also designed frequently for other Connecticut theaters as well and her work can currently be seen in the Long Wharf Theatre’s production of “Clybourne Park” which runs through June 2nd. Up next for the costume designer is a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for director Chris Moore at the Oregon Shakespeare Festivalin Ashland, OR.

Cho and Tresnjak’s collaborations include plenty of Shakespeare productions at theaters around the country and in some cases outside the country. They have worked together on “Pericles,” “Titus Andronicus,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “The Winter’s Tale,” “All’s Well That Ends Well,” and a production of “The Merchant of Venice,” which was invited to be restaged at the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. They’ve also joined together for several productions at theLA Opera, including “The Dwarf,” “The Broken Jug,” and “Die Vogel” (The Birds), which required her to create bird costumes that not only allowed the cast to sing and move, but, in her words, “still had enough beauty that they didn’t become a cartoon and got in the way of the marvelous music.”

This is also Cho’s third opportunity to work on “Twelfth Night,” but her first for Tresnjak. “What is great about Shakespeare,” she says, “is that you can do him over and over and each time is a different take. Each director brings a fresh perspective so no two productions are ever alike. You never tire from designing for Shakespeare.”

This has obviously been quite a busy career for someone who started out as a psychology major at McGill University in her native Canada. A friend got her interested in theater while there, and Cho quickly found herself become absorbed in this new activity, subsequently applying to Yale. She’s excited to find out that for “Twelfth Night,” she’s collaborating with sound designer David Budries, who was one of her instructors at Yale.

For information and tickets for “Twelfth Night,” call the Hartford Stage box office or visit their website at www.hartfordstage.org.