Meet Our Member of the Week: Billy Blue

June 28, 2024

Billy Blue is a third-year MFA Candidate in Costume Design at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. He has been designing costumes and makeup for shows for about four years and recently began working for Music Theatre Wichita as a costume crafts artisan, where he has been able to flex his budding passion for that element of design. He enjoys sewing, patterning, draping, building jewelry, drawing, and designing for theatre. He has also worked with the Illinois High School Theatre Festival for numerous years, teaching workshops covering various topics such as makeup, costume design for the stage, research, and choreography. In addition to Billy’s work as a costume and makeup designer, he is a drag performer in Illinois. You can catch him onstage as Misty Midler Sharealike! His work as a drag performer has helped inform his work as a costume designer, pushing him to create work that is functional and fashion-forward. 

Check out his interview below!


Tell us a bit about yourself! As live entertainment technicians, we always talk about our work. But who are you, outside of your work in live entertainment? 

My name is Billy Blue. I am a third-year costume design grad student at Illinois State University (go Redbirds). I am from Clinton Illinois originally, but I moved to Bloomington, IL in 2014 for school. I also have a bachelor’s degree in theatre studies from Illinois State. I love hanging out with my friends and being outside when I am not doing theatre work. I am a lover of movies and TV shows, and I am obsessed with fashion anything, and also makeup. 

What sparked your interest in costume, hair, and makeup design?  

When I was in undergrad I took a stage makeup class and absolutely fell in love with it. Then I took a costume course and I was sold, but it wasn’t until I started performing more on stage that I fell in love with the aspects of costumes. I performed in lots of theatre and I was always fascinated with the costume aspect and now getting to do it for a career is amazing. 

Rumor has it that you’re also a drag performer in Illinois! Tell us about Misty Midler Sharealike! How has your work in the drag scene influenced your work as a designer?

I started performing as Misty almost ten years ago now. I did it for the first time and realized that it was very much theatre, just in a different way, and it allowed me to start doing “theatre” for me. I built my own costume looks, did my own makeup, and designed and choreographed routines to perform so part of me was already designing before I realized it. This has really helped in my work as a designer because it allows me to think about the practical aspects of the costumes and the needs of the person wearing it. It has allowed me to make smarter decisions as a designer because I know the needs of the actor or performer. 

USITT emphasizes collaboration across different disciplines in theatre. How do you collaborate with other members of a production team, such as designers, actors, and directors, to achieve a cohesive production? 

The core of what designers do is collaboration. Without it, we don’t have success. I try to pick up on the ideas that my team gives me and I dive deep to try to make a design that works with the whole team. It’s important to be able to adapt and make changes as needed.  It’s important to remember that collaboration is just as important as adaptability. 

Do you have a favorite project you’d like to tell us about? Or a favorite “wow” moment in a show you helped conceptualize? 

Within my graduate program, I have had the privilege of designing costumes for dance and theatre and I think one of my favorite shows I have ever worked on was the first dance concert piece I ever designed. It was called “Capitalist Confessions” and it is all about how money is everywhere and we are surrounded by the capitalist system. We took the literal idea of money and put it on the costumes. We used large money print shirts and pants mixed with shades of brown, green, and grey to create the costumes for this piece. It was honestly one of the best pieces I have done.  

On your website, you mention doing a lot of work with high school students. Do you have any tips for artists working with younger theatre students, or teaching best practices?

One of the things that I would tell anyone working or mentoring young artists, especially theatre artists, is these young artists are like sponges and will soak up everything they are given. I remember being that young artist and working with professionals in this business and just latching onto every word they said. My biggest advice to the artists working with these students is that be aware that you are the mentor and understand that they take everything you say at face value. Allowing theatre artists to learn and make mistakes is the greatest gift you can give them. Because making mistakes and sometimes failing implies that you tried. Let them try, let them learn, and let them grow 

What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a costume designer? Conversely, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in this role? 

One of the best things about being a costume designer is seeing the actor click into the character when you put them in the costume. When that light bulb goes off and they are invested in what you are putting them in it helps them develop and benefits the show in the long run. 

The biggest challenge I face, especially in academic theatre, is when challenges present themselves that I didn’t plan for I let them get the best of me. I think I get caught up in the details and sometimes lose sight of the big picture, so it’s important to take a step back, reevaluate, and then go back and say “What is this missing” and “Why isn’t it working?” I’ve started to distance my personal connection to the costumes and it’s allowed me to see things in the bigger picture. 

USITT offers numerous resources and opportunities for professional development. Can you share how being a member has benefited your career and artistic growth? 

USITT is quite literally the reason I obtained summer work and also potential work after graduation. I joined this year and was able to go to the conference for the first time and it allowed me to meet people, network, and also see professionals doing this and being successful doing theatre and it gave me the confidence to know that I could do that also. USITT literally jump-started my future. 

Costumes are something that every actor on stage interacts with, very directly! How do you balance creativity with practicality when you’re designing costumes for a project? 

I touched a little bit on this earlier but I think my background as a performer has helped me be able to make sure that I can create costumes that are both creative and practical.  I have been in costumes on stage that hindered my actions, so I have always wanted to make sure that every actor who wears anything I put them in feels that these costumes will help tell the story instead of hinder the process. 

Are you working on any projects right now that you’re excited about?

Well currently this summer I’m working as a crafts technician for Music Theatre Wichita in Wichita, Kansas and we are very close to opening the regional premiere of Disney’s Frozen, along with two other productions: Matilda and Beautiful: The Carol King Musical.  I am also in the process of designing Medea in the fall at Illinois State. I’m finishing up my last semester of graduate school which is very exciting, and I’m also really excited to be teaching my first class this year. I will be teaching our introduction to stage makeup course this fall so I’m really excited to be able to do this work and get to do things I love to do.