The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

From bunnies to vampires, Pamela Shaw has designed it all

Jazmyne Cushenberry
Pamela Shaw, City College’s director of costume and make-up, is pictured on Wednesday, March 25, in the Makeup Studio on West Campus. Shaw is currently working on City College’s latest play ‘Dead Man’s Cellphone,’ showing April 15 through May 2.

In an empty room behind the theatrical makeup classroom, Pamela Shaw is photographing her students after the day’s project in role reversal for women. Steadily focusing the camera, Shaw slowly pushes the button and captures the female student’s fake-bearded face.

The director of costume and makeup has been teaching in spans throughout her life, and has worked at City College for the past four years. Shaw said that what makes her passionate about the occupation is student success.

“There is that moment when they truly finally get it,” Shaw said. “The gestalt of struggle to understanding. Once the understanding comes, concept of execution becomes possible.”

Shaw has a very successful career behind her. She has made costumes for the award-winning movie “The Artist,” has dressed the cast of the TV-show “The Vampire Diaries,” helped design the Energizer Bunny and has worked on countless plays.

Story continues below advertisement

Shaw is a tall, illustrious woman who is straight to the point and seems to have an endless amount of energy, much like her designer bunny.

She has worked in the creative field for nearly 30 years, doing everything from singing to theatre and ultimately ended up dedicating her career to costume design. Her interest for it was sparked at the age of 18, when she attended College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California, and needed a job.

“I got a job at [Billie’s Costumes] shop because I wore something I had made,” Shaw said. “I said, ‘I made this dress and I can bring my own sewing machine.’”

Shaw was born in 1953 in Flint, Michigan, and is the second oldest out of six siblings.

In 1971, at the age of 18, she moved to California where she attended five different colleges, there among College of the Sequoias, UCSB and California State University Fresno, where she received her masters of arts in technical theatre and costume.

After she finished her degree she started teaching in Bakersfield for a year. She then ended up working at City College for the next five years.

While working on one of the school’s theatre productions in 1987, Shaw was introduced to Dorothy Jeakins who was hired to do costume design. Jeakins is a legendary costume designer who has won several Academy Awards for her crafts and quickly saw the talent Shaw possessed.

“[Jeakins] said ‘You could go and work in L.A’,” Shaw said.

Shaw followed her advice and soon enough she got her first job working on the sitcom “Roseanne.” Shaw did all the aging and dying, which are different techniques used to make clothing look like it’s been worn and torn, to make the characters look more authentic.

Two years later, Shaw started working on the design for the Energizer Bunny. She was the first person to design how the fur was applied to the bunny.

“Because I had a theater background, which was hugely important, I could work special effects,” Shaw said. “I knew how costumes went together and how they came apart.”

Shaw said that working as a professional costume designer has many perks, but is like most creative occupations, a tough business to be in.

“You just work job-to-job, you are not hired for the whole season. Even if you are hired for the whole season they can fire you at any time, you don’t get two weeks notice,” Shaw said. “They can just say ‘Thanks very much, this is your last day.’”

The uncertainty and inconvenient work-hours is partly what made Shaw decide to go back to teaching but the standards for her work remain the same.

“It’s not easy, so if you are not having fun and you don’t love working hard it will not work,” Shaw said. “The gold standard is inside yourself.”

More to Discover