Carmel Valley costume designer brings young playwrights’ visions to fruition

By Claire Harlin

Do what you love and you will succeed.

That’s not only the philosophy that has driven Carmel Valley resident Alina Bokovikova to become a successful costume designer, but it’s what fuels her excitement to work on a project that helps young playwrights get their careers off the ground.

As the lead costume designer for the Playwrights Project’s 28th season of its annual festival of Plays by Young Writers, Bokovikova will be working with four local teenage playwrights whose scripts were evaluated by a panel of theater professionals and chosen from 149 submissions from around the state. The winners of the Playwrights Project’s annual California Young Playwrights Contest will have their work produced professionally and performed at the Lyceum Theatre on Feb. 1-9.

“These plays are in the development process, so you really have to be experienced to do a project like this,” said Bokovikova of creating visual representations of the teenage playwrights’ work. “There are so many changes throughout the process, and it’s not a classic set … It’s exciting because you can suggest something that will later on be in the play, and since we are the first vision, it’s like a premiere, which makes it very fulfilling if the play gets recognized.”

Whereas Bokovikova, who has done costume design for more than 40 plays in San Diego since she moved here five years ago, normally works on one play at a time, she said the Playwrights Project also presents an interesting challenge because she is working on four plays at once. The program is divided into two parts, one featuring two full-length plays from students ages 11 to 15 and the other showcasing the work of two students ages 16 to 18. The Playwrights Project also includes a professional producer, stage manager, scenic designer, technical director, lighting designer and sound designer. The North Coast Repertory Theater in Solana Beach donates its costume stock to help support the project.

After two months of collaborative meetings, presentations and rendering-making, Bokovikova is putting the final touches on costumes, a process she’s been overseeing every aspect of — a change from the larger productions she normally does.

“Ideally when I work in big theaters they have a shop that makes the costumes,” she said. “Normally I make the designs and there is someone else in charge of sewing and building. This project is lower budget, so I’m doing everything from the designing to the sewing to the shopping.”

A native of Russia, Bokovikova was an art teacher before she moved to the United States and didn’t become interested in costume design until she landed in Northern California about a decade ago. Taking community college classes to learn English, she also enrolled in an art history course because she thought the familiarity factor would help her learn the language.

“My instructor was a costume designer and she said to me one day, ‘Alina, I know that everyone is Russia knows how to sew,’ and she knew this because she was from Yugoslavia,” Bokovikova said.

Her instructor, who eventually became somewhat of a mentor in costume design, was right — Bokovikova remembers how every young girl in Russia took at least five years of sewing classes, just as the boys took classes in practical skills like woodworking.

“When I grew up [in Russia], there wasn’t everything in the stores like there is here,” she said. “You had to learn how to sew if you wanted to wear something a bit different, to be able to express yourself … In school we had uniforms and everything was more restricted in Russia at that time.”

Bokovikova, a mother of two girls and a boy, ages 8 to 15, said her daughters have followed in her footsteps. Her youngest, Sophia, asked for a sewing mating for her birthday last year, and Bokovikova said she has even used the simple device for her own designs.

A teacher of costume design at the University of California, San Diego, Bokovikova is letting the Playwrights Project be an educational experience not only for teenage playwrights but also for her graduate students, who are helping with the production. Bokovikova also teaches a class on the history of costumes at San Diego’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

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