The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Design student creates ‘crazy’


Hunter Dowell works on costumes for ‘Middletown’ coming up in April. (Courtesy of Ally Van Deuren)

Every thread, hue and button of Hunter Dowell’s designs has a deeper meaning.

A first-year graduate design student in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts theatre department, Dowell specializes in costume design.

Dowell is currently working on the designs for ‘Middletown’ by Will Eno, a play that will be produced in the Margo Jones Theatre in April as part of the theatre department’s Rep series.

“The show deals with life, birth and death,” Dowell said. “But what do we do between life and death?”

Dowell explains that as a designer, he is expected to meet several times with the lighting designer, the set designer and the director of the production.

“We decided that these people are a modern take on archetypes and stereotypes,” Dowell said. “Some things are ‘50s inspired and vintage-inspired and there’s a very childlike quality to this very real world.”

How is this team of designers going to translate this to the stage?

Dowell says that the leads of the production will have a basic uniform, but will be given accessories to transform them from scene to scene.

“There’s this uniformity to everybody, but they have these accessories and different patterns to set them apart. These accessories are all vivid colors, like a tin box of Crayola Crayon colors,” Dowell said. “Take a box of crayons and vintage silhouettes – mix those together and you get something crazy.

Something crazy, perhaps, and also, the world of the play.

“These costumes are quirky and outlandish, but there is also a statement there behind them,” Dowell said. “She is not just wearing a ridiculous hat because she is wearing a ridiculous hat; there is a deeper meaning into it. This character may have gotten this hat from her grandmother and is wearing it everywhere.”

Dowell said that his personal aesthetic does not differ much from that of ‘Middletown.’

“My aesthetic is very quirky and vintage-inspired and I love patterns and primary colors,” Dowell said. “I do what the show calls for and then I try to mix my look onto the show as much as possible without taking away from the show itself.”

How did Dowell get started in design?

Dowell was born in Joplin, Missouri, a small town of about 50,000 people.

He received a full ride to study acting in the theatre program at Missouri Southern State University (MSSU), where he participated primarily in children’s theatre
and musicals.

“It wasn’t until my sophomore year of my college career that I took a gamble and designed costumes for a student-directed show,” Dowell said. “I just kind of had an affinity for it, a knack for drawing and creating these characters on the page.”

Dowell believes his background in acting feeds his work as a designer.

“As a young designer, I like to design the shows as if I am going to wear them,” Dowell said. “If I wouldn’t wear them, the actor wouldn’t wear them.”

He said that he had a teacher at Missouri Southern State University that pushed him and told him that he needed to try designing.

The play he designed ended up being Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl, now one of his favorite shows of all time.

After graduating from MSSU in 2013, he went to the University/Resident Theatre Association (URTA) in Chicago and interviewed with several schools. This is when he was introduced to the representatives from SMU.

“I interviewed with a couple of places and I thought SMU was great,” Dowell said. “I really loved Claudia [Stephens] and Giva [Taylor], and the people seemed really nice here.”

While Dowell has an emphasis in costume design; the three-year graduate program at SMU is a degree in stage design.

“It’s great because you are not just focusing on one area,” Dowell said. “You have all these kinds of opportunities and you aren’t just stuck in your emphasis, which is good. You don’t want to be so tunnel minded that you don’t know everything else.”

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