c-heatherstriebel

A glamorous woman strides towards a small crowd gathered at the foot of a stage. She’s dressed in a silver floor length ball gown and is holding a sword and the scales of justice. In another part of the world, a man strikes his finger into the air while acting in a movie. He’s dressed in a Victorian ruffled top and trousers. The woman behind both characters’ outfits, and so many other actors' and actresses' outfits, is Heather Striebel. 

Striebel said she always knew she would be a costume designer, and with the help of her family and peers she was able to make this dream a reality.

 “As a child I loved plays and movies and seeing all the outfits,” Striebel said. “I learned how to sew from my grandmother [while] growing up. I also took a couple preliminary sewing classes while in high school.”

After graduating with an undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University, Striebel taught theater class to high school students.

“When I wasn't doing theater education things, I was doing costume design,” Striebel said. “I worked in the costume shop, and I built a number of costumes, but there really wasn’t a way to minor in costume design.” 

While Striebel’s teaching job was fulfilling enough, she said her true calling was in costume design. So, she went back to school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and eventually graduated with a doctoral degree in apparel design in May of 2022.

“I was a high school theater teacher for a number of years, and I designed costumes as much as I could in my free time,” Striebel said. “But then I decided that I wanted to make the leap. I wanted to design costumes full time.” 

Striebel has designed a number of pieces for Arizona Broadway Theatre and was the sole director and designer for the fine and performing arts departments at two different high schools in Arizona. However, her most recent feat was designing the outfits for “The Bell Affair,” a film directed and created by UNL staff members Michael Burton, Kwakiutl Dreher and William Thomas.

With the help of the graduate student, Anna Kuhlman as the costumer stitcher, Striebel acquired and sewed all the garments the actors wore in the artistically animated film. Burton’s main focus was directing the art for the film, but he still acknowledged the accuracy of the actors’ outfits that Striebel and Kuhlman created. 

“[Kuhlman and Striebel] spent so much time on each costume and, given the circumstances and the timeline, created amazingly accurate outfits,” Burton said. “I already knew Heather, she'd taken classes with me. I didn't really realize her costume-making background was [as] strong and as deep as it was.”

While a couple garments and accessories were made from scratch, Striebel also borrowed clothing for the movie from UNL.

“All the ladies' garments were constructed and designed and built specifically for them,” Striebel said. “We built a number of accessories and different kinds of smaller things for our gentlemen but, primarily we borrowed clothing for them from the Johnny Carson [School of Theatre & Film] costume department.”

Due to COVID-19 falling in the middle of the production timeline for the film, “The Bell Affair” was created entirely virtually. Actors filmed themselves in their homes and sent clips to Dreher. Burton then animated the actors and environments to create a look in which the movie appears to be engraved on paper. Many actors were hesitant on creating the film virtually, since the initial plan was to get everyone together in the same room to produce the film. According to Burton, Striebel was the main convincing component to keep filming. 

“Heather is a true manager. When I told everyone that we had to go virtual to produce the film, Heather was able to figure out how to do that. She made the whole team pivot,” Burton said. “She was able to really knock it out of the park and make an amazing set of costumes.” 

Even though “The Bell Affair” premiered at the beginning of this year, the team is already working on a new virtually-produced film based off of Michael Shiner’s diary. While Striebel doesn’t want to divulge too much about the new movie’s costumes, she said the team will be reconfiguring some pieces from “The Bell Affair.”

“For the new film, we pulled some new options for Michael and for different things, but the goal is that we don't want anybody to watch Michael Shiner and go, ‘Oh, that looks exactly like ‘The Bell Affair.’’ So we are reusing pieces, but we’re also reworking some things,” Striebel said. 

Along with production on the newest film, Striebel keeps busy but doesn’t forget the reason why she started designing costumes in the first place. 

“Currently, I’m designing a bunch of costumes for The Arizona Broadway Theatre. We opened Spamalot on Friday, which I took a ton of time designing costumes for,” Striebel said. “I don’t really mind staying busy though, because at the end of the day I’m still doing what I love to do, and that’s always the most important thing.” 

This article was modified at 6:42 on October 18, 2022 to correct Striebel's doctoral degree field of study and change it from costume design to apparel design. The article was also changed to clarify that Striebel no longer works at two Arizona high schools.

culture@dailynebraskan.com