Grad Karen Tushaus is Head of Wardrobe for Cirque Du Soleil's Volta
Born in El Salvador and raised in Los Angeles, Karen Tushaus arrived at FIDM just two months after finishing her high school education. After graduating from the college with a degree in Fashion Design, she went on to work for famed theaters such as The Pasadena Playhouse and El Portal Theatre before joining Cirque du Soleil in 2008. We chatted with Karen about her exciting career as the Head of Wardrobe for Volta, Cirque’s touring show, which is in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium from January 18, 2020 through March 8, 2020.
What were some of the most valuable things you learned at FIDM? Although I wanted design to be my sole focus at the time, I was very grateful to learn patterning, draping, and the technical elements. They have been vital in my personal design projects, keeping me versatile and working in this industry thus far.
You’ve had an illustrious career. What are some career highlights for you? While I worked at the Civic Light Opera, I had opportunities to design some of their musicals, which was thrilling at the time. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to design for several theater productions, independent film projects, and a few projects for Vegas night clubs. This odd path has led me to working for Cirque du Soleil for over 10 years. I'm now on my fifth show with them as the Head of Wardrobe for the Big Top show Volta.
How did the opportunity to join Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas come about? When I moved to Las Vegas, the show Criss Angel Believe was looking for a seamstress to help them in the Illusions Department. I applied and started working for the show within a week of my interview. Although being able to sew opened the door for me, I soon started to do show tracks and so on. When the show Viva Elvis was being mounted, I switched to that show as a Dresser in the Wardrobe Department and did that for a few years. After that, I did Zarkana, then I wanted to try to travel with Big Top shows and was lucky enough to get hired on Kooza. Kooza then led to Volta.
As Head of Wardrobe for Volta, what are your day-to-day responsibilities? Gosh, I’ll start by saying that no two days are the same. There are three of us that travel with the show in Wardrobe and we do a little of everything: wigs, shoe repair, sewing repairs, setting costumes for the show, preparing costumes for the future, etc. As Head of Department, I then do additional things such as scheduling, ordering costumes from international headquarters based out of Montreal, help optimize costumes, training of tracks, tracking our costume stock, and we also help with the teardown of the tent. Fun fact: we all drive forklift on tour.
Tell us about the costumes and what makes them unique and special? Our Costume Designer for Volta is Zaldy. He has designed for Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and RuPaul’s Drag Race just to list a few. There are four visual families featured on our show consisting of Memories, Elites, Greys, and Free Spirits. If you see our show, these visual categories are very clear. Most of our costume fabrics are designed and printed specifically for this show. One thing I personally find exciting is that ninety-nine percent of our costumes are machine washable and don’t require dry cleaning.
How does it feel to return to LA for the production? I’ve been looking forward to heading to LA with the show for quite some time. I’m excited and thrilled to be able to share this show with friends and family.
What is it like to work for Cirque du Soleil? It feels rewarding to work for this company. They encourage growth, value their employees, and allow so many creative types to keep working on beautiful productions globally.
What advice would you give to a FIDM Student who is interested in the costume design world? Learn as much as you can from every aspect of this industry. Being versatile in many disciplines will sustain you for the ups and downs of this career. It can help open doors you wouldn’t have imagined.
Karen Tushaus Portrait: Steven Moxley
VOLTA Photography: Matt Beard
Costume Design: Zaldy / ©2017 Cirque du Soleil Inc.