This costume designer for the musical 'Frozen' is behind myriad fabulous creations, including some of the biggest productions on the planet, writes Sally Clark.
Can you imagine creating the costumes for 6000 individual performers? Or just one costume for a horse? Well, that’s the sort of brief Australian designer Janet Hine has filled. Whether for theatre, film, TV or huge arena spectaculars, Hine has done them all – and probably at their most extreme.
Hine is a freelance theatrical costume designer whose career has spanned more than 30 years. In that time she has crafted costumes for So You Think You Can Dance (series 1 - 4 in Australia), musicals including Disney’s Aladdin and Hairspray, and arena productions for mammoth events, including the 2018 Commonwealth Games Opening on the Gold Coast and Asian Games in Doha in Qatar in 2006 (the site of the 6000 performers). Currently, she is collaborating with Disney Theatrical as Design Associate for the company’s upcoming Australian stage production of Frozen, which opens in Sydney in July, 2020. In this role she liaise with the original creative team from the Broadway production and oversee the costume, wig and make-up departments of this Broadway hit.
Hine credits her upbringing in a “family of craft campers” as her major training ground. “We were taught sewing, knitting and dyeing from an early age and my Gran was a milliner - so we were always creating,” she tells. “I was terrible at following patterns, though, so I always made up my own”.
She confesses that her move into creating for stage “is a consequence of being seduced by the world of dance when costuming for David Atkins’s stage productions in the ’80’s.” Those shows included Dancin’ Man and Dynamite - which both featured Atkins as the lead performer. That working relationship with Atkins has stood the test of time – she has since collaborated with him on massive arena productions as he moved into that domain. She worked on the Sydney Paralympic Games 2000 (Opening and Closing ceremonies); the Manchester Commonwealth Games 2002 handover ceremony; the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 handover ceremony; Pan Arab Games Qatar 2011 opening and closing ceremonies); as well as those mentioned above—it was the Asian Games where Hine managed an international team of creatives to dress the 6000 performers for what has been called “the largest show on earth”.
“It took our team two years and was an incredible experience learning the politics of the costume and national dress of the Asian and Arab regions. I even had to design a livery for the Prince’s horse -- which he rode to light the flame. Now that was an interesting fitting!”
She has a “special place in her heart”, however, for Atkins’s production of Hairspray - the musical. “ I love the mid-century modern style and the animated designs for the digital screens meant I could heighten the design.”
Her other costume design credits for musicals and theatre include Saturday Night Fever (for which she won a Green Room Award); Hot Shoe Shuffle - Anniversary Tour; Fame - the musical; Eat, Pray Laugh (Barry Humphries - Australia, Broadway and West End tours) and tours of Jason Gilkison’s Burn the Floor (2007, 2010 and 2011).
And then there was the small screen with So You Think You Can Dance. “That was definitely my favourite TV experience,” she notes, “....covering 80 new designs each week on live television – crazy times! I loved the constant challenges every show and I wanted to add dramatic support for each performance . I knew all the choreographers well, too, so it was a beautiful creative marriage - most of the time.”
Such a variety of performance worlds have very different requirements. “ Obviously, the larger the venue the more “theatrical” the costume needs to be to read at a distance,” she says. “Any [small] details are lost. Whereas on TV the camera needs a close up shot so it needs some detail to be interesting. Dance costuming is also very specific -- as all dancers know, if they are worrying about their hat falling off they are not focussed on their performance.”
As a costume design associate Hine has collaborated with the international creative teams on many Disney productions, such as the Japanese Love Never Dies, the original Australian production of Dirty Dancing, High School Musical and Aladdin. “I first worked for Disney over 12 years ago [on High School Musical]. I started Aladdin in 2015. This was a dream show for me as it was a combination of my three favourite things – crystals, Arabian design and colour! There was lots of artwork involved in Aladdin with specialist printing and dyeing methods.”
The work for Frozen, as with all Disney’s large stage productions, began about a year before the opening.
“It starts with me travelling to observe the show onstage and behind the scenes - usually on Broadway or the West End. I meet with all the integral creatives and am briefed on their vision and desired end results. It’s important to get all the details exactly the same as the original design so this informative period is crucial to the visual success of the show.
“I take hundreds of photographs and notes. I observe the backstage plots as well as watch the show from the audience. The choreography backstage is often more complicated than onstage. I have to understand the function of a costume so I can choose the best method of construction. There are lots of quick changes in Frozen, which adds a degree of difficulty when making that costume.”
For Frozen, Hine and her team will create over 300 costumes - with each involving several layers, including hats, wigs and accessories. Some of the costume designs will also involve the specialist printing and dyeing [as in the creation of Aladdin] -- “but more as embroidery detail”.
“There are some beautiful menswear designs in Frozen, with Norwegian detail which is very unique.” She also proudly adds: “All the costumes will be made in Australia - as we have world class costumiers.”
What does she most love about her job: “The creative collaboration,” she replies. “I love being part of a team building a show. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the vision unfold.” She also adds: “... travel and the anticipation of future opportunities excite me about this wonderful world of dance costume....[and] ...the craziness of working with princes, pop-stars and presidents means I have loads of good stories to tell!”
'Frozen' opens at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre on July, 2020. At the time of printing there was no news on casting. Reviews for the Broadway theatre production of this hit Disney movie claim the special effects are “spellbinding” and costumes “eye-popping” - so it seems Hine and her team have quite a bit to keep them busy until then.
This article first appeared in the Dec19/Jan 20 issue of Dance Australia. At the time pf posting, the company was still planning to go ahead with the show. See here.