Covedale Center for the Performing Arts Costume Designer Shares Behind-The-Scenes Perspective

Costume designer June Hill sits down with CityBeat to discuss her costuming process for the theater's production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

click to enlarge June Hill (right) and costuming partner Jesselee Whitson (left) - Photo: Courtesy of June Hill
Photo: Courtesy of June Hill
June Hill (right) and costuming partner Jesselee Whitson (left)

Built by the Ackerman family in 1947,  "the Covedale" was one of the most popular and modern post-war cinemas. For almost 30 years, Cincinnatians treasured Covedale as the community’s go-to for movies. But in the early 1990s, Covedale was shut down and soon became Cinema Grill, an establishment showing second-run movies while serving members dinner. Once the grill finally closed its doors in 2001, a campaign to revive Covedale as a performing arts center brought the theater to life again. The Cincinnati Young People's Theatre was able to purchase the Covedale and begin renovations. After their grand opening teen production of West Side Story in 2002, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts became one of the most popular and professional performing arts centers in the area. They’ve added seats to bring the capacity of the theater to nearly 400 people, and upgraded systems to restore the theater back to the community’s favorite place to relax and connect. 

This summer, Covedale presents their production of Jesus Christ Superstar, a hit Broadway rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Loosely based on the Gospels' accounts of the Passion, the show interprets the psychology of Jesus and others, with much of the plot centered on Judas, who is dissatisfied with the direction that Jesus is leading his disciples. 

Below, June Hill, the costume designer for the show, sits down with CityBeat to share her background, costuming process and a little sneak peak of the costumes for the show.

CityBeat: Tell me a little about yourself.
June Hill: I’m a professional musician, classically trained pianist and music education major, and I have a master's degree in piano performance. I taught choral music, piano and musical theater for 34 years, directed over 30 musical theater productions and was a musical director for many more productions both in schools and community theater.  I've worked in CPS (Cincinnati Public Schools), Oak Hills Schools District and have done camps and accompanying for Children's Theatre of Cincinnati, Sycamore Schools and Madcap Education Center.

CB: Where are you from? 
JH: Midway, Kentucky, in the heart of the Bluegrass.

CB: What brought you to theater? 
JH: I've loved performing and collaborating for as long as I can remember.  It started when we put on shows in the backyard for our parents. I began piano lessons at nine and started playing for church at 13.

CB: Have you worked with Covedale before?
JH: I first volunteered with Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre (CYPT) when my kids were in a show in 1998.  I've been involved as a volunteer, a board member and an employee many years since then.

CB: What brought you to costumes in the first place? 
JH: My mom always handmade our Halloween costumes and doll clothes.  I loved that what we had was original and continued the tradition with my children and grandchildren. When I began teaching I put on shows even with my primary school children and if there were costumes, I had to be in charge.

CB: What do you personally get out of costuming?
JH: I love the people I work with, so in addition to working toward the end product when the curtain goes up, the collaboration with the director, the choreographer and my teammates is very rewarding.

CB: Take us through your process of costuming.
JH: After reading the script, we look at lots of images and start to put together the plot as we work with the director. Knowing where we're headed early in the process, understanding the setting and time period, how many costumes each character needs, and getting measurements as soon as a show is cast are all critical.

CB: What is your favorite part of Jesus Christ Superstar
JH: Tough question — I love Andrew Lloyd Webber's music. He's a very versatile composer, but I like the way the rock element figures into this story line and the characters who are featured. The type of song he wrote for each character is so specifically constructed.

CB: What brought you to this show?
JH: The first CYPT post-pandemic show was 2 years ago, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Tim and Genevieve Perrino were directing and choreographing and called me to see if I would help with costumes. After that, a team of women started working on reorganizing and "rescuing" the CLP Costume Shop. Like many other theater venues, it had been abandoned for over 2 years. Since then, the team has been working on a number of the shows produced at the (Warsaw Federal) Incline Theater and at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts.

CB: What colors are important for the costumes in this musical?
JH: Jesus is seen in light colors, as white usually stands for purity. The Apostles are in jeans and red shirts that imply they are members of his "band" and red always represents Jesus' blood. Each of them will personalize their shirts but they will still be unified in design and color. Mary Magdalene is in burgundy and black — the story line indicates she has a history as a prostitute. The soldiers will be in all black and SWAT-like looks, as black is imposing and represents authority. The Zealots might appear to be "guerilla"-like warfare personnel in camo and black; the priest’s look is reminiscent of '70s TV evangelists; Herod is outrageous in pink and has a group admirers who are featured dancers; Pilate is our idea of a small-time politician; and there are groups of street people, the press and street vendors all with some nods to '70s attire.

CB: What should people get out of Superstar?
JH: It's based on a Biblical story, maybe the best known of all. The message is about love, acceptance and how hard those things are to achieve, even when there is someone trying to make the message available to everyone.

CB: How do you want people to feel once they experience this show and your costumes? 
JH: The people who were around in the '70s will see lots of familiar styles, since that's when the musical is set. Hopefully everyone learns a lot about the musical and the original time period and the one in which it is set.

CB: What personal tones or flairs do you put into your costumes?
JH: My partner Jesselee Whitson and I try to get an idea of who each actor is, not just their character. We love to see them start to participate in the process and enjoy all aspects of performing.

CB: How much do costumes influence a show and the audience's perception of it? 
JH: The character can really come to life if the costuming is correct. That doesn't mean there's only one way, but standing back and watching each actor is very important. If something looks uncomfortable or not well-fitted, the costumer needs to be willing to change her mind until it is right.

CB: Why should people come and see this show? 
JH: Live theater is simply the most interactive form of performance, so everyone needs to experience that whenever possible. Supporting local theater and young people in theater is so important and so appreciated. Seeing local productions is also a great bang for your buck.

CB: Anything else you want people to know about you or Superstar
JH: My costuming partner is Jesselee Whitson. Follow the Facebook page and website for Covedale, as we have several more shows where we will collaborate in the upcoming season.   

Jesus Christ Superstar runs July 20-30 at Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, 4990 Glenway Ave., Covedale, and is presented by Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit their website.

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