Last year I read an article about one of the people who designed the sets for “Mad Men.” She spent her days researching the 60s, scouring antique stores for vintage items, and making sure every shot of the series was as true to the time period as possible. (At times, I’ll admit, it veered to the slightly ridiculous; her team only used small, imperfect apples for a bowl on a boss’s desk because farmers sprayed fewer pesticides back then and apples didn’t get as big.)
This fall my mom and I visited the Taft Museum in Cincinnati for a special exhibit of costumes from “Downton Abbey.” Once again I heard the design team talk about poring over research books and old photos, visiting flea markets throughout Europe and the States, and repurposing old materials to create an authentic visual experience for every minute of the show.
So the good news is that now I know what I want to be when I grow up: a set or costume designer for historical productions. The bad news is I discovered this about twenty years too late.
We tell our children they can be whatever they want to be, but we forget to mention this is true only if they figure it out by their early twenties. After that, mortgages and marriages and car payments and children and a million other commitments make it hard to go away for a long weekend, much less uproot your life for unpaid internships and full-time grad school. To explore set design at this point in my life would mean a second bachelor’s degree, a series of apprenticeships, and probably a move to New York or LA. And that’s just to get my first entry-level position; I could be 50 or older before I was making enough money to pay back the student loans.
I’m not unhappy with my current work, and I’m actually hoping to return to seminary in a few months and keep plugging away at that master’s degree. My half-chosen, half-backed-into career lets me ghostwrite books, interview leaders with names you would know, write small group curriculum that thousands of people will use, create communication materials for nonprofits I care about, and serve on the boards of two organizations I believe in…..and that was just last week. Things are good. But I married at 36, I’m doing grad school at 40, and now I’m “finding myself” really late in a society that requires people to make major life decisions before they can rent a car. At age twenty I knew nothing about my future except that it would not involve math or moving someplace cold. I had no idea the twists life can take, or that you rarely get a second chance at paths not taken.
So I’ll probably never be a set designer or costume researcher for anything beyond a church drama production. And that’s disappointing. But wait ’til you see the outfits for LCC’s Christmas pageant this year.