Southeast Missouri State University alumna Tara Meyer of Los Angeles, California, helps actors become the character through an ever-changing wardrobe on the Amazon original series, “Hand of God.”
Tara, a Cape Girardeau native, is a costume assistant for the costume designer, Susanna Pusito, on the series now in its second season. She works with Pusito to prepare the actors for their next scene.
“Working for television is exciting! While creating walking works-of-art with our costumes, we are also helping to flesh out the characters of a story. Costumes help actors get into character and convey the subtle messages found in the script,” she said. “Working for TV is wonderful and exhausting. Basically, I get paid to shop for other people, and I love it. Despite the stress that comes from working with deadlines and pulling long work days, my job is very rewarding. While trying on gorgeous designer jewelry is a perk, my favorite part is seeing the actor’s reaction to their costume. When you find the perfect ensemble, the actor’s eyes light up. It does not have to be a beautiful costume; it just needs to be something that helps flesh out the character.”
The series is a psychological drama about a morally corrupt judge who suffers a breakdown and believes God is compelling him onto a path of vigilante justice. There are currently about 150 people that work on this project.
At Southeast, Tara earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in design, technology option. She credits Southeast and the staff here for making her well rounded.
“By choosing Southeast, I knew I would receive a quality education at an affordable price. During my time at Southeast, I learned from an incredible teaching staff. The professors were a very talented group who challenged their students to achieve excellence and taught them skills that would give them an edge in the industry,” she said. “Attending a University instead of a specialized art school was a choice I made because I wanted to have a well-rounded education. My field is not a sheltered art form, and it is important to use every tool I have to thrive in the industry. Whether I’m using algebra to create budgets or the lessons I learned in grammar to compose emails to top fashion companies, I am using the knowledge I gained from the diverse classes I took in college.”
She recently reflected on the start she got at Southeast and how one event has helped her with her position today.
“I had a lot of fun during one of the breakout sessions of the class, ‘Rehearsal and Production.’ We were challenged by the professor to recreate a famous work of art, using real people and props. I was able to raid my parent’s house, with permission of course, for props and clothes to use for my ambitious project,” she says. “Considering how we did not have a budget or access to the school’s prop storage, my team did pretty well. We certainly got creative with our problem solving and even painted a beard on a girl’s face. With this unique school project, I learned to think outside the box and see budget restrictions as a challenge, not a hindrance.”
Tara was also able to participate in numerous behind-the-scenes roles at Southeast’s River Campus that helped prepare her for her current career.
“I was involved in 32 shows. Since I was an assistant in the costume shop, I had a hand in every show that was produced during my four years at Southeast. As an assistant, I helped create the costumes including sewing, dying, distressing and embellishing,” she said. “My first show was ‘Once on this Island,’ for which I made a giant goddess head out of foam. My last musical was ‘Peter Pan,’ in which I tried my hand at millinery and created all of the hats for the show. I once made a full-length fur coat for the play, ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ and dyed costumes for a dance piece in every color of the rainbow.”
Besides sewing, she also worked as an assistant costume designer, wardrobe crew head and costume designer at Southeast.
“The assistant costume designer positions I had were pretty similar to the job I have now,” she said.
Tara worked on Southeast’s productions of “Annie” and its summer show, “Nunsense.”
“As a member of the wardrobe crew, I was in charge of backstage costume changes (we call them ‘quick changes’), laundry, and emergency costume repairs.”
She worked on major productions including, “Legally Blonde” and “Into the Woods.” She designed costumes for “Murphy’s Law,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Sordid Lives,” and dance costumes for “Fall for Dance” and “Spring into Dance.”
These experiences helped prepare her for the rigors of working on “Hand of God,” which account for days of hard work, imagination and design.
“Each day is unique. Usually, I look at the production calendar as a guide for how to plan my day. If we are just starting a script, then I break it down to anticipate the costume needs of the episode,” Tara said “Then, the costume designer and I go to the stores to search for costumes. Once we have a good selection of costumes, we schedule a fitting with the actress and seamstress. After weeding out the clothes that won’t work for the episode, I organize the clothes for returning back to the stores and attach the receipt paperwork to them.
“The next few afternoons I will return the clothes to the stores and close out on the accounts,” she said. “ This process can take a while since the script gets updated often and we might have to make major costume changes accordingly. While choosing the costumes for the episode, we also keep the budget in mind and see where we can add or subtract to balance the budget. If we have favorite clothing brands, I also contact the PR firms of the stores or clothing brands about getting merchandise on wholesale or discount for the show.”
In her small amount of free time, Tara is still designing costumes for her friends.
“I have several friends who attend desert festivals, such as Burning Man, and ask for me to design crazy costumes for them. I love creating costumes so vastly different from what I’m used to working with and having the chance to exercise my imagination,” she says. “Most of the costumes I design center around post-apocalyptic and futuristic themes, but like the festivals, I am not bound by rules and expectations. I am given free rein to get in touch with my creative side and let loose my imagination. One of my favorite costumes involved turning an old leather purse into a shoulder holster to carry face painting markers. With costume design, every project is a new puzzle that I can’t wait to solve.”
She says she cherishes her time in Los Angeles with its diversity, people and environment.
“I’m always learning new things about other cultures and trying new foods. There are always fun, unique events since the people here are hungry for new experiences,” Tara says. “A good example would be a roller skating rave that had an animal theme. In LA, I am always discovering new places and making friends along the way.”
To Southeast students she offers this advice:
“Today is the perfect day to work on something from your ‘to do list.’ When I put something off for the next day, it usually turns out that the previous day was the best time to accomplish the task,” she said. “You should always leave room for the unexpected when planning for the future, because otherwise it will force you to make room for it.”
Tara hopes that one day she will be a costume designer.
“Once I’ve worked my way up the career ladder, my ultimate goal is to be a costume designer for TV/film,” she says. “With my passion for history, I would also love to work on a period television show or film.”
Tara is the daughter of Thomas M. and Mary Meyer of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.