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Christina Dinkel’s Design Odyssey Hits Home

Costume designer and UC Santa Cruz Theater Arts alum, Christina Dinkel just graduated six years ago but already has a very impressive resume. From designing costumes for top local theater companies, including Santa Cruz Shakespeare and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Z Space, to several productions at UCSC, Christina is living her dream life. Her current project is designing the costumes for UCSC’s upcoming production of The Odyssey, which is the major headline event for the Theater Arts Department this quarter.  

Growing up in Redwood City and now residing in San Francisco, Christina is truly a Bay Area artist. She remembers going to the museums in the City with her grandmother, who also was an artist, and being inspired by the exhibitions. “The exhibit that had the most life-altering effect on my future career motivations was Artwear: Fashion and Anti-Fashion at the Legion of Honor,” she says. “It really was an ‘aha!’ moment where I realized people could actually make clothes, render design, and have good style…for money!” 

EARTHY: An Ecosex Bootcamp premiering at SF MOMA, Photography by Elliot Longstreet Taylor & Seth Andrews

MOST OUTSTANDING STUDENT

When she was only 17, Christina enrolled in the Summer Art Experience at the Academy of Art University and won the “Most Outstanding Student” award in fashion design. “I had to wake up at 6 a.m. every day, take two trains, and would get lost in San Francisco trying to make my way to classes,” she says. “I was very motivated to prove to my parents that this wasn’t a passing fad…I got to experience city life as a designer, and I was hooked!” 

But as the time for college approached, Christina started getting cold feet about studying clothing design, fearing that finding a job in such a competitive industry could be next to impossible. She enrolled at UC Santa Cruz and thought about majoring in journalism or history. As fate would have it, all that changed when she took the Introduction to Design class. 

“I met Brandin Baron-Nusbaum [Associate Professor, Theater Arts], and came back to my senses!” she says. “One course turned to ten, and I was officially designing 1-2 productions a year at UCSC. Brandin was a real inspiration for young costume designers.” 

"One of my favorite former students, Christina has always been fearless about taking on new challenges and perfecting her design skills” says Professor Baron Nusbaum.  “I’m so proud of her recent achievements in the professional world, and know that she will be successful in however her career unfolds". 

DESIGNING HER OWN INDEPENDENT MAJOR 

Christina became fully immersed in the Theater Arts Department, but also found herself wanting to explore other disciplines and was able to create her own, independent major. Working with her professors, she combined History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC), Art, and Theater Arts and customized her degree to reflect the multi-disciplinary approach she desired for her career in the arts. 

She genuinely loved her time at UCSC and appreciated all of her professors. “What really drew me to UCSC were the people and the culture,” she says. “Every student I interacted with really did seem to love being there. Now that I’m part of the alumni and have been working in my industry for some time, I’ve found that the community and connections you make in college aren’t just great for the memories, but they really do help you get a leg up when you’re vying for a job. It is what you know, but also who you know!” 

Christina was thrilled to be able to design costumes while she was an undergraduate, with the highlight being designing costumes for the student production of HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical in 2010 with Professor Danny Scheie. “It had 60 performers, and maybe double that in costumes, and it ended up being a huge portfolio piece that got me professional design work even before I graduated,” she says. “Working with the costume shop and production staff taught me the ‘how’ behind my big design ideas, which is crucial to know post-graduation.” 

CREATING COSTUMES FOR UCSC’S THE ODYSSEY   

After graduating, she went on to design costumes for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's 24-Hour Countdown, the Jewel Theater Company, Cabrillo Stage, Intersection for the Arts, Shady Shakespeare Theater Company, Encore Theatre Company, and San Francisco Playhouse. During the past year and a half alone, she’s designed for three world premieres and collaborated on four others, plus did the costumes for last summer’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by Santa Cruz Shakespeare. 

Now designing costumes for The Odyssey, which opens on Friday, November 11, Christina is finalizing the designs. “This particular rendition of The Odyssey highlights the journey of Odysseus through the lens of war,” she explains. “It has multiple sites for audiences to explore, as well as multiple disciplines within the university working together, plus an entire army of students and professional artists working together to reflect on the different themes in this epic. It’s very nostalgic to be back.” 

“Christina is a rare talent in multiple areas of design,” says The Odyssey’s director, Professor Kimberly Jannarone. “Her designs are imaginative and totally original. Her research behind them is a work unto itself – looking at her image boards is like getting a visual body of research into the production. And her ability to calmly navigate multiple design ideas, huge casts, and a variety of constantly changing circumstances is the epitome of professionalism.” 

Christina never seems to have a dull moment and when not designing for a show, she enjoys cooking and traveling with her husband, who she refers to as her “rock” and biggest supporter. “The day-to-day life of a designer is never the same,” she says. “One day I could be outsourcing 1960’s swimwear on Haight Street…another day alone in my studio for hours reading, researching, and rendering…and yet another day in a bustling costume shop working with talented technicians who need direction but, more importantly, fabric!” 

She hopes one day to be able design costumes for a production of Cabaret, especially if it’s a version being re-worked for the present day. She also is always up for creating designs for new works and enjoys seeing how audiences engage with theater, especially in San Francisco where technology has seemed to impact every segment of the culture.  

THEATER DEPARTMENT BRIMMING WITH TALENT 

When thinking about UCSC, Christina always has fond memories. “The entire Theater Department is brimming with inspirational – and professional – artists who are very active in the theater arts community,” she says. “They not only taught, but provided connections and internships, extended office hours to review designs, and offered high-end references. Classes stayed relevant because my professors were actually practicing their art with some of the most highly regarded companies in the Bay Area.” 

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
-- Production shot from Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephen's performance of EARTHY: An Ecosex Bootcamp premiering at SF MOMA, Photography by Elliot Longstreet Taylor & Seth Andrews
-- Production shot from HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, Photography by Steve DiBartolomeo
-- Costume design renderings for The Taming of the Shrew at Shady Shakespeare Theatre Co., Renderings by Christina Dinkel

-- Production shot from world premiere of Tree City Legends at Intersection for the Arts, Photography by Pak Han