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Festival Honors Passing of Costume Designer Janet Swenson

Janet Swenson

By Liz Armstrong

Janet Swenson was a beloved Festival seasonal staff member for just under 20 years. As a costume designer, Swenson was an essential part of the productions each season. 

Swenson was born in 1947 in Seattle Washington, and passed “with dignity and humor” on July 20, 2023, after dealing with illness for many months. The Utah Shakespeare Festival acknowledges her beautiful work and commitment to the Festival for so many years, and offers condolences to Swenson’s family and friends.

During her theatre career of over 50 years, Swenson designed costumes for over 280 productions. She was also a makeup artist for more than 50 productions, and a millinery designer for eight. 

Costume Renderings, Much Ado About Nothing 2010

Her first role as Costume Designer at the Festival was for Timon of Athens in 1993. Since then, Swenson was the Costume Designer for over 22 shows, including Richard III (1994), Pericles (1997), Peter Pan (2000), My Fair Lady (2004), Camelot (2005), Twelfth Night (2007), and Much Ado About Nothing (2010) to name a few.

In addition to Swenson’s tremendous work at the Festival, Swenson taught at Brigham Young University for 39 years and served as Resident Designer at Robert Redford’s Sundance Theatre. Other professional credits include costume design for Disney Channel, California’s Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, Guthrie Theatre, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Hale Theatre, and more. 

Festival Costume Director Jeffrey Lieder worked closely with Swenson.

“Her contributions to the Festival were remarkable . . . especially the beautiful A Midsummer Night’s Dream she designed with Fred C. Adams in 2011,” Lieder said. “She was an excellent teacher, designer, collaborator and artist, and a true and loyal friend.” 

Steven Schmid also worked closely with Swenson in the costume shop. As the draper for Timon of Athens this season, working on the show has been a full-circle moment. His first season at the Festival was in 1993, when Swenson was the Costume Designer for Timon of Athens––the first, and only other time the Festival has produced the show. 

“I’ve been thinking about Janet, and what she would’ve thought of this production,” Schmid said. “I think she would’ve loved it, as [this production] is a great example of what we can do at the Festival.” 

Funeral services will be held this Friday, July 28, at 11:00 am in Pleasant Grove, Utah. 

To send flowers or a card and to read Swenson’s full obituary, click here.

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