Q&A with Costume Designer Kish Finnegan
Meet Kish Finnegan, the talented costume designer for the world premiere of Justice!
At the beginning of this year, Associate Artistic Director Chanel Bragg interviewed Arizona Theatre Company’s very own Kish Finnegan, the talented costume designer for the world premiere of Justice. Finnegan is one of ATC’s main costume shop attendants and identifies as a Californian turned Tucsonan more than 30 years ago! Bragg and Finnegan cozied up in the Green Room at the Temple of Music and Art to connect while Kish was on break from helping with the Women in Jeopardy! costumes.
Q: What is your role here at the theatre?
A: Resident costume designer and design assistant. I am also the costume designer for our fifth show this season, Justice!
Q: How long have you been in this industry?
A: Oh goodness, in the industry? Well, I kind of sort of started making different costumes and things as a teenager. So that’s a couple of years ago (laughing). I’ve been with ATC for 34 years and before that, I worked in California (Los Angeles) for a couple of years and went to school there. But yes, I started a long time ago.
Q: Where did you study?
A: I went to California Institute for the Arts (Cal Arts). I studied production design technology and costume design.
Q: When did you know you were called to design costumes for theatre specifically?
A: I was a synchronized swimmer for years and years. Which is now called artistic swimming. I used to live in Santa Clara, and from the age of 6, I made costumes for the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team. That was how I really got started. I was making headpieces, costumes, and stuff like that. After I retired, I designed for a couple of aquacades and found myself in a little show in Las Vegas called Splash.
Q: Like the movie? You were in Splash the musical?
A: I was in Splash! I was performing as one of the synchronized swimmers in the tank! There were two of us, and we swam around on stage alongside showgirls, fireworks, dancers … all sorts of things happened. Anyway, my costume fitting was in Los Angeles at Bob Mackie’s studio, where I met Pete Menefee. It was Pete who helped me recognize I wanted to be a costume designer for theater. I don’t really care what the trendy fashions are; as a kid I always dressed weird … I never really liked what was popular.
Q: How did you find yourself in Arizona?
A: In the ‘80s, I got a scholarship to the University of Arizona to swim for their synchronized swimming team. Half of the [U.S. Synchronized Swimming] team was from Arizona and the other half attended Ohio State. During the year, we would compete against each other, but in the summer, we competed together as the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team. After I graduated from Cal Arts and was contemplating leaving LA, I remembered how much I love Tucson. Visiting for Christmas, I made a cold phone call to ATC that I was in town for a little bit and asked if they needed any help in the costume shop. Dave Nicholson happened to be working at ATC and because of our Cal Arts connection, I was hired on the spot. The rest is history, as I met my husband of 30 years and we had two wonderful boys that grew up in this very Green Room.
Q: What is inspiring your design for Justice?
A: Ruth and Sandra, of course. Sandra was famous for purple, which made a lot of sense because I didn’t want to focus on “party colors.” I think, symbolically, she loved purple to be “just.” You know, I met Sandra Day O’Connor, literally, in the Safeway up the street several years ago after she retired. She taught workshops for the University of Arizona, and I was coming home from work, and I stopped at the Safeway up the street near the University. I was picking up poblano chiles (I’m originally from New Mexico), and when I whipped around the corner, I almost crashed into Sandra Day O’Connor’s cart going in the opposite direction. She looked at my chiles and said, “Oh what are you making with those?” I told her, “I grill them!” I suddenly realized, I’m talking to THE Sandra Day O’Connor!!! I was so nervous I started to stammer. She was the nicest woman who shared how much she loved chiles. After she walked away, a grocer and I geeked out over the encounter.
Q: If you had a theme song following you around, what would it be?
A: “Livin’ La Vida Loca”
Q: What advice would you impart to a young designer about being your most authentic self?
A: Trust your instincts and don’t be intimidated about what you want. Especially if someone tries to make you feel insecure about it.
Q: If you had the power to mandate anything in the world, what would it be?
A: To take more time and really listen to people. It’s so easy to get buried in the minutiae of life, especially in this business. We should take the time to really listen to each other.