An acting student from Encinitas who hopes to one day run her own theatre company, Hannah Dohrer had done a lot when it comes to the stage. But she had never served as costume designer.
At least not until the MiraCosta College Theatre Department asked her to design the wardrobe for last fall’s production of “Oedipus the King.” Her work on that play has placed her in the running for being named the top college costume designer in the country.
The 19-year-old, who, not long ago could barely sew, was recognized Feb. 17 by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival as the top costume designer in a region that includes much of the western United States. The honor came complete with a paid trip to Washington, D.C., next month as a Kennedy Center finalist competing for the title as best in America.
It’s not the first time someone has excelled at their first shot. Mitch Lyden of the Florida Marlins hit a home run in his first Major League at bat on June 16, 1993. It was the only home run in his career. The first time I hit the links, I nearly shot a hole in one. I ended up about 60 over par and haven’t gone back to a golf course since.
Hannah’s feat is another story. She has some serious talent. Just ask Alina Bokovikova, a costume designer at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, who mentored Hannah during the pre-production work.
“It is quite unusual and an honor to receive such an award for your first production,” Bokovikova told me. “But, for her it was to be expected, she worked to her restrictions, and made the most out of it. She knew what she had to do, and worked with the manager perfectly. Since she is new, she has her own style that has not been influenced deeply by others. She thinks outside of the box, sometimes not even knowing this box exists. And I wish for her to keep this unique creative nature of hers as long as possible.”
Hannah has been acting since she appeared in a production of Treasure Island at Oak Crest Middle School in Encinitas as an 11-year-old.
Shortly after enrolling at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, she took part in several Theatre Department productions. Last year, the San Diego Academy graduate was asked to help out with the costume design for a production of “Henry IV.”
“I kind of became the person that everyone went to for help in building their costume,” she said. “I think they saw my potential, and they offered to have me costume ‘Oedipus.’”
Hannah went to the experts, including Bokovikova, for help. She also met with the director to “come up with the kind of vision you want to create through the costumes.”
She said about 90 percent of the 30 or so costumes used in the play were made from scratch. “You pull out a basic piece and build over it,” Hannah said. “You just have to take a risk and hope that it comes together.”
Said Bokovikova: “Costume design for this show was a combination of period silhouette and modern material choice, with emphasis on diversity of cultural background of characters and actors who are on stage. It is an old story told in contemporary costume language, and the designer’s goal is to support the telling of the story, but not to be overwhelming. I think Hannah really succeeded in it.”
Hannah plans to stay at MiraCosta College for another year, in part because of its Theatre Department.
She hopes to earn a degree from a four-year university before ultimately opening a theatre group for physically and mentally disabled children.
“I feel like they are given so many fewer opportunities and many of them have a great imagination,” Hannah said. “I would like to give them an opportunity to help express that imagination.”
She believes her experience as a costume designer will be invaluable in reaching her dream of establishing a theatre group.
“It has taught me a lot about the process of creating something from scratch,” Hannah said.
David Ogul is a longtime reporter and editor who has worked at numerous North County newspapers during a career spanning more than three decades. He now runs his own communications company and serves as a contract writer for MiraCosta College. He can be reached at [email protected]