Kentucky Opera Staff Profile
Costume Shop Manager, Josette Miles
Josette Miles has supervised costume production at Kentucky Opera for over thirty years. During this time, she’s worked with five general directors, seven production managers, and on over 100 productions. She currently manages a stock of over 2,000 costumes, as well as the building and alterations of costumes for each production. Her institutional knowledge remains unparalleled.
Miles started sewing as a young child in her hometown of Nancy, France. As part of her ballet training, she was required to make her own tutus for performances. Miles comments, “We quickly learned to make them well, because if we didn’t, the mistakes would show on stage.” She later studied banking and sewing in college and came to the States in 1973.
Coalescing her love of dance with her sewing skills, Miles worked for Louisville Ballet’s costume shop, her first production being their 1983 production of The Nutcracker. Miles continued to work for the Ballet during the day, and started at Kentucky Opera in the evening. A short time later, she was asked to join the Opera full time as costume shop manager.
Miles has contributed to the growth of the arts in Louisville for the past thirty years; she discusses these changes, stating, “I’ve seen new and existing organizations reaching out more to different demographics, not only within social economic levels, but also new programming that is inclusive of the diverse cultures within the city. I also see more collaboration among organizations.” Miles notes that arts organizations are dependent on younger generations as future patrons and leaders in the industry. She has worked closely with Kentucky Opera’s education initiatives to elevate the production quality of in-school touring programs and help students build interest in the arts from a young age. Miles recognizes the benefit the arts have on academic performance.
As far as personal preference, Miles admits that she typically likes the production concept to “be either all traditional or all modern, but there are always exceptions. I love the work of costuming, and I can find elements in each opera that are interesting.” Of course, her favorites include Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, with the featured French can-can dance, as well as Bizet’s tragic opera Carmen. Miles recognizes the need to expand patrons’ operatic repertoire, but comments that, “building new audiences can be tricky because traditional audiences like traditional work, so when we program modern pieces or concepts for the younger audiences, other patrons may not be as interested.”
Miles is eager to glean the audience’s reception of the upcoming production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado. Stage director Danny Pelzig is taking an interesting approach by setting the piece in London, 1985. The cast will portray a progressive theatre company during the “King’s Road Punk” era and will transition into the traditional Japanese-inspired costumes during the course of the production. These are two very different looks, and Miles comments that she is eager to “consider the new setting as we transition to the traditional look of 1885 Japan.” Miles built the traditional costumes for a KO production more than thirty years ago. She is quite proud of these costumes, as they have been through several productions. She echoes, “When you build them, you build them to last.”
When building costumes, Miles works very closely with the designer, exchanging ideas throughout the collaboration. Over the past thirty years, Miles has cultivated many great working relationships among various designers, stage directors and cast members who frequently work with the company, not to mention choristers who have been with the opera as long as she has.
The Costume Shop staff, comprised of Miles, the costume designer, and a handful of part-time sewers, typically has between four to six weeks to build the costumes and make any alterations. Of course there are exceptions to this. They once completed a production with only nine days to accommodate 40 fittings and alterations. Miles recounts, “It was crazy, but we did it. I usually approach the productions with the deadline first, and then we set the schedule from there.”
During production week, Miles spends her time in the theatre with the cast and crew; everything moves into the theatre on the Saturday before the show opens. The Brown Theatre has four floors back stage, with no elevator. The first floor is reserved for the principals, the second floor for the Studio Artists (who are typically the supporting roles), third floor for the female chorus, and fourth floor for the male chorus. Everything is set up on the respective floors in alphabetical order. Miles not only oversees this process, but also coordinates the four dressers: one each for male principals, female principals, male chorus and female chorus. During tech week, Miles is “up and down the stairs constantly, supervising the entire process and making sure everything is on track. We do not want any mishaps of cast members forgetting costume pieces or having the wrong costume for a certain scene; we have to be very careful and organized.”
Miles admits working in the arts can be difficult with the various budget constraints and potentially demanding and inconsistent schedule. She credits her education and passion for her success in the industry; “Even though I did not pursue banking, my math skills have been invaluable to me. This is also an industry where you really have to love the work you create.”
Written by Aubrey Baker