Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Dramatic Fabric: The Art of Star Moxley

Costume designs take center stage at Enso


To measure the sheer scale of what it takes to put on a professional theater production, look at the costumes. It's in the fabric swatches, hand-selected in a luxe LA market. It's in the design sketches and idea boards, illustrating a deft attention to color, character, context and mood. It's in the finished look, stitched together by many hands.

"And this is only in the costume department," said Star Moxley.

For 35 years, Moxley has been the mastermind behind the scenes of epic fashion at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Great Lakes Theater, Idaho Theater for Youth and Boise Contemporary Theater. In "Elements: A Costume Retrospective," a new exhibit running now through Nov. 22 at Enso Artspace in Garden City, 26 of Moxley's costume designs are showcased. "Elements" provides an in-depth look at the fashion, inspiration and intricacy that have gone into some of the most unforgettable staged moments in Boise history.

"It's so amazing that this stuff looks even better close up," said Vida Lietuvninkas, who attended the show's Oct. 18 opening.

Moxley is known for the big ideas she brings to a production, and her laser-sharp focus on even the smallest details.

"One of her many gifts is a breathtaking attention to detail," said BCT Artistic Director Matthew Cameron Clark. "That's not just an expression. I have, more than once, actually held my breath in response to seeing one of her costumes up close. That's artistry."

Moxley admits to designing for the moment when it all clicks together in an emotional response for everyone involved.

"My favorite moment on stage is when the audience responds the way you intended them to respond," she said. "It's just a brief little moment, especially when you think about the amount of work that's been created going into it. It's like when the audience gasps. It's audible appreciation."

In his 22nd year as ISF producing artistic director, Charles Fee reflects on a standout Moxley moment: a costume she designed for Macbeth.

"Star designed a very long train for the dress worn by Lady Macbeth in the banquet scene," he recalled. "We were all a bit concerned about how this would affect the actress playing the role. Trains are notoriously difficult to control, especially in a crowded, very active scene."

Instead of hurting the performance, Moxley's design elevated it. The actress portraying Lady Macbeth had to physically work the train around the stage.

"It informed the increasing desperation of the character, driving and underscoring the anger, frustration and literal danger of the scene," Fee said.

Her work in Macbeth won Moxley a World Stage Design award.

As both an actor and director, Clark also feels that Moxley helps bring insight through clothing. When Clark played Jerry in BCT's The Zoo Story, Moxley's costuming was integral to Clark's character.

"Jerry had so little, but he was going to look his very best and make that day count," Clark said. "Star saw that in a way no one else could have."

Moxley said it all starts with the text. She reads the play first and brings thoughts, renderings, swatches and inspiration photos to meetings with the director until a cohesive look and feel start to gel.

"It's an interesting process," Moxley said. "It's about putting together classic silhouettes with abstract interpretations. It's a mixing of concepts. You merge contemporary values with the past to make it connect."

Fee called her a true collaborator.

"We have created so many projects together that I really don't draw much of a line between her work and my work," said Fee. "We simply talk about everything: casting, period, palette, texture, stage business, rhythm, props, on and on. In other words, Star's work significantly influences all aspects of our work together."

"Elements," curated by Jacqueline Crist, is funded in part by a Boise 150 Grant that recognizes people who have made significant contributions to the community.

Moxley's work speaks to the gaps and the growth of the city and its arts scene over the years. Born in Boise and a resident here for most of her life, Moxley had no formal schooling in the costume design craft, but she did have a passion.

"It was a natural process," Moxley said. "I've always loved fabric; I created and sold quilts in art galleries in the '70s. I know fabric by using it and sewing with it. I approach colors in a different way than most."

Moxley got her start in costuming in 1981, when the Idaho Shakespeare Festival called a river berm off of Parkcenter Boulevard home. In those early days, she scrounged and bargained for fabric and made the most with what she could get her hands on.

No matter what the budget, though, she always had a flair for the dramatic. Eventually, as Boise theater companies grew professionally, she was able to grow alongside them. In time, she gained an extraordinary skill set and an eye for costume design that have taken her and Boise theater to whole new places.

"Star has played an integral role in the artistic growth of the [Shakespeare] Festival over the decades she has worked with us, challenging us artistically, helping me to develop our production shops and the process of construction, even working on the business of the Festival and our collaborations with our other companies," said Fee.

Over the years, Moxley has batted down many offers and opportunities to move elsewhere. She wants to stay in Boise.

"I love doing it," she said. "I'll keep on going. Costuming is a wealth of opportunity, with text in hand."