Few people appreciate the magic of the circus more than Miles White did.
Sure, the Ringling brothers, P.T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey knew how to put a show together, but White knew how to bring it to the level of pure spectacle using a pencil, a sketchbook and his imagination.
The costume designer made his professional debut in 1938 when he created the costumes for the revue “Right This Way.” But over the course of his 50-year career, he was known for much more than his Broadway credits.
The Ringling is honoring his 12-season career with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus by dedicating an exhibit of drawings, sketchbooks and original costumes to honor his contributions to the circus.
White’s career took off when he started as a Broadway costume designer, but it wasn’t until he designed the garments worn in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first two Broadway hits, “Oklahoma!’’ in 1943 and “Carousel” in 1945, that he gained the star status that would eventually lead to two Tony Awards and three Academy Awards.
However, the earlier years of White’s career were consumed with another artform.
In 1941, industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, who had just been hired by John Ringling North, joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus team. Bel Geddes brought with him a group of young, talented designers and challenged them with the task of modernizing — and thus completely transforming — the Greatest Show on Earth. And at age 27, White was one of those designers.
Jennifer Lemmer Posey, associate curator of the Circus Museum and curator of “A Kaleidoscope of Color: The Costume Designs of Miles White” exhibit, says it was his time in the circus that appears to have significantly shaped Miles’ style. Although Broadway presented plenty of creative design opportunities, it was his career in the circus that allowed White to set his imagination free.
“Miles White wanted to orchestrate an entire production of color and movement across all the textiles,” she says. “For the first time that season, they unified the whole production’s costumes.”
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