In the theater world it is hard to find someone not vying for the spotlight. Tony Sirk, one of Pittsburgh’s most sought-after costume designers, told me that he hated to talk about himself. Perhaps this kind of reserved attitude is due to of mid-western upbringing in Indiana. Pittsburgh is the biggest town he has ever lived in, but he likes it because of its neighborhood-y feel. It’s not too big.
Tony has a few gigs in Pittsburgh— he is the First Hand at Point Park University, and he is Resident Designer at both Pittsburgh Musical Theater and Pittsburgh Festival Opera.
Looking at his handiwork in person or on his website http://anthonysirk.com/, you would not assume that he only began sewing as an undergrad theater student at Ball State University. Tony attributes some of his skill to genetics. His grandmother and mother both were hobby-seamstresses. Although they never showed him the ropes, he just picked up on sewing when he needed to provide costumes for a student production.
After leaving Ball State, he bounced around the south between the Creede Repertory Theatre, the Alabama Shakespeare festival and various spots in Florida. He missed winter, and his husband is from West Virginia not too far from Pittsburgh, so moving here was a good fit.
It is the diversity of Pittsburgh’s theater scene that really makes Tony love living here—that and the fact that Pittsburgh supports the arts. Tony noted that no one gets into the theater to get rich. What he loves about costume design is that at the end of the day he has something tangible to show for his hours at work and that he rarely does the same thing twice. Tony approaches his work as a problem solver. In his position at Point Park, he receives a general idea, and then he makes it work. Recently, for the musical Pinkalicious, Tony made four-foot cupcakes out of yoga mats.
Working in the academic world at Point Park and freelancing with local theaters has been a blessing for Tony because he gets to work with students, and he gets to go deep into design work. Pittsburgh Theater has been a welcoming scene for him, and at times he even turns down work. His favorite shows to design are shows that have never before been staged. That way he can truly create a vision instead of deriving from another designer’s work. This summer he will be costuming Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s A Gathering of Sons which is an opera examining racial politics surrounding the police shooting of an unarmed black man, and a family’s grief at the loss of their child.
Currently, Tony is working with high school students who are staging a teen-friendly version of the musical Hair as part of their training with Pittsburgh Musical Theater. The kids remind him of why theater is so powerful. He said, “I look at them having fun and I think about the first time I did a show. Those kids enjoy it so much”.
Keep an eye out for what Tony is up to this summer by following along with our reviews of the Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s summer season!
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