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Along with 400 other costumes, Wright designed this dress for the sea queen for BYU’s China Spectacular! (Courtesy of Dennis Wright)

BYU Theatre and Media Arts professor Dennis Wright designed over 400 costumes for the 2019 China Spectacular! 

BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts professor Dennis Wright developed a love for costume design while he was in junior high. What started out as a unique fashion sense and a knack for homemade Halloween costumes has turned into a successful career that has taken Wright all over the world. 

Mostly recently, costume designing took Wright to China on BYU’s China Spectacular! 40th anniversary tour. Inevitably on the largest tour BYU has ever done, there was a high demand for costumes — over 400.

Wright alongside a small team of cutters, drapers and stitchers, was responsible for the costumes worn by 160 student performers in eight performing groups. 

“At times, the scale of this production was certainly overwhelming,” said Wright. “However, I truly enjoyed bringing the vision and purpose of this show to reality. China Spectacular! was a fantastic experience! Having the opportunity to work with eight different performing groups and their directors was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Wright and two wardrobe crew members accompanied the large tour in China to help the show run smoothly — not an easy feat when changing 160 performers in and out of over 400 costumes. 

The costumes that Wright sketched vibrantly came to life on stage during the China Spectacular tour, including the sea queen (center) and the bird dancers (right). (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

“Many of the performers also pitched in to help with packing, loading and general organization,” said Wright. “Everyone was very committed to the success of this production and worked hard to make it the best it could be.”

While audience members enjoyed the vibrant and unique costumes they saw on stage, they only saw the finished product — many not knowing the various facets of costume design. Costume designers, like Wright, spend countless hours researching, brainstorming, drawing, selecting fabrics and solving obstacles that unavoidably arise before their costumes ever see the stage lights.  

To Wright, costume designing is not an isolated art because it exists to help others express themselves creatively and tell stories while on stage. 

“Working collaboratively with other members of the production team is very rewarding,” said Wright. “I really enjoy helping the director tell a story and actors create characters that an audience can relate to.”

China Spectacular! wasn’t the first time that Wright used his skills to liven people’s imaginations and help them connect with a story or character.

Wright sketched this costume for a bird dancer for China Spectacular! (Courtesy of Dennis Wright)

Earlier in his career, Wright worked for Walt Disney World in Florida for 10 years designing character costumes, attraction uniforms and costumes for several live stage productions at the amusement park. He also helped manage uniform production for various Disney resorts.

In addition to his time at Disney, Wright has designed costumes for productions at theatres and instructed at various colleges across the United States.

After 27 years of success as a costume designer in both the retail and entertainment industries, Wright returned to his alma mater in 2016 to work as a professor in the Department of Theatre and Media Arts. 

“I see my current position as a perfect blend of my talents, interests and training,” said Wright.

Wright has recently passed his third year review, which allows him to continue to work towards continuing faculty status at BYU. This process can be quite rigorous and demanding — requiring various peer reviews, student and faculty recommendations and approval from the department, college and university.

Wright decided to include his designs for the BYU productions of “Chariots of Fire” and “Into the Woods,” and the Sundance production of “Oklahoma!” for his three costume examples for the review. 

This accomplishment has continued to bring to life Wright’s childhood dream of being a costume designer, which has only been possible due to hard work and dedication. Wright believes that others with the dream of becoming a costume designer can succeed in the industry. 

“Learn costume and fashion history. Learn to draw. Learn clothing construction,” said Wright. “Learn to work with people and strive to understand what they do — it takes a team to make successful entertainment.”

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