Ronan’s UM student shapes the future of costume design

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MISSOULA — A graduate of the University of Montana, Morgan Brooks’ budding acting career began in a rather unconventional way — through 4-H.

Raised in Ronan with a menagerie of pets, Brooks joined the youth organization not only to compete in animal herding but also in sewing, a skill she would go on to apply in competitions and eventually her studies in costume design at UM’s school of theater and dance.

Among his early accolades were state and national placements in the Make it With Wool contests, which are supported by the American Sheep Industry.

“In this contest, you make clothes that are all wool,” Brooks said, noting that among her winning designs were a biker-style jacket and a pencil skirt. “My family didn’t raise sheep – my dad would have stepped on that – but my sewing teacher was involved in the industry and she suggested I compete.”

In high school, Brooks developed a keen interest in acting and costume design — “acting wasn’t my thing” — and then spent the first two years of her college education at Flathead Valley Community College, where she signed up for the theatre. transfer track and served as costume store manager.

During the summer, she worked at Bigfork Summer Playhouse, honing her early skills and learning the hierarchy of costume design.

“The stitcher is the lowest rung, and then you progress from there to the costume designer,” she explained.

She chose UM to pursue her education because she liked the costume design program and the lower tuition made getting her degree more affordable. UM offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater with a major in Design and Technology.

She said her lessons were steeped not only in the technical aspects of her craft – pattern making, sewing, textiles – but also in the history of dress through the centuries.

“I really like the period of agitation. I chose this for my senior project,” Brooks said, adding that the materials cost $300. “It’s super detailed, with a petticoat and an overskirt.”

Because of her past experience, Brooks joined the program with an extremely strong set of sewing skills, as well as experience in theater construction and design, said Paula Niccum, UM’s costume shop supervisor.

“Morgan is always hungry for more knowledge and has never been afraid to take on a complex project,” Niccum said. “She was an outstanding role model for young students interested in costumes.”

UM Professor Alessia Carpoca, head of design and technology at the school, has seen Brooks grow in her technical abilities and her understanding of the breadth of costume design, which not only includes historical elements, but also the character inspiration. Her skills were on full display, Carpoca said, in “Machinal,” one of the final pieces of the 2021-22 season where Brooks served as costume designer.

“Designing costumes for ‘Machinal’ was a difficult task because the play has a large cast and different actresses play the lead in different scenes,” Carpoca said. “Morgan stepped up the plate and did a great job. His work was truly magnificent.

The work of a costume designer does not stop at the end of the piece. Brooks and his teammates are also responsible for cleaning and storing the costumes.

“We have three places on campus for storage. But it’s always a discussion about what more can be done in tiny closets,” she laughed.

Now that she’s about to graduate, Brooks is already under contract to work on costumes for a film to be produced in Montana.

“I want to do more freelance work,” she said, “but I still hope to have time to sew for fun.”


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