For the Sake of Drama, She Sets Fashion on Fire (or Puts it in a Blender)

Betsy Puckett’s comedic acting background shapes her gloriously inventive costumes. Photo by Audrey Goforth

Betsy Puckett has been an eclectic stage performer since age 8. Last decade, she gained regional fame as the bawdy belle Augusta Wind — for many the most memorable character on LaZoom Tours’ purple-bus comedy circuit. Nowadays, in addition to being a full-time mom, she emcees local events, writes, acts in commercials and plays, and is a TV spokesperson (her latest project was a film noir-style ad for outdoor awnings). This month, she joins established fashion designers from around the region in presenting a theme dress for Costume Drama, a juried runway show that is Asheville Community Theatre’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

How’d you get into making costumes? Are you self-taught?
Yep. Just me and the Husqvarna [sewing machine] owner’s manual — and the occasional YouTube video. Though I have to give much credit to [LaZoom Tours founder/owner] Jim Lazoun for showing me how to really open my creative eye and see possibilities where many wouldn’t. Like, say, the plumbing section at Lowe’s. … I did some costumes for the LaZoom bus and I’ve also worked with a glorious group of wingnuts for Asheville Mardi Gras. I’ve made dresses for [the fashion show] Condom Couture Asheville. Condoms are the most difficult material I have ever worked with. I put them in a blender this year — not kidding. Didn’t do much. Which is good, considering their intended purpose.

Asheville is sometimes a great big costume party, isn’t it?
Where else does a bus pull up and 40 nuns of all different genders hop off and run around? Tourists don’t know what to think. But part of the glory of being in a creative environment is that there’s an opportunity to bring other people along, which I think is so important and joyous.

You’re an Asheville native and know the scene intimately. How are your creations uniquely about this place?
My nature is Asheville, my nurture is a host of incredibly creative people willing to foster art and creative thinking … which stems from this town’s unique artistic principle of “Why Not?”

Tess Miller models Puckett’s bottlecap jumpsuit. Photo by Audrey Goforth

Did you participate in Costume Drama in previous years?
Yeah, three years ago my category was Plastic. I made a picnic dress chiefly out of melted sporks. Last year the theme was “trashion,” trash fashion. I stitched 2,000 bottle caps together with fishing line. That took a long time.

And you did all that work as a community volunteer?
Yep.

What about this year?
I’m in the Light category, and I’m excited. The first thing I think is, I want it to be fun. It’s all about bubbles. I’m trying to come up with a way to make them appear that they are floating … bobbing up and down with different-sized Christmas lights.

That sounds awesome.
Yeah, well, it’s not done yet. I’m still in the stage where the material laughs at you and says: “I don’t think so!”

Then what?
You have to reconfigure your thoughts.

Like how?
Talk to enough designers, and you realize that you all ultimately get to the point where you wonder, “What if I set it on fire?”

Seriously?
One of the designers at last year’s Costume Drama made a spectacular headpiece and I asked, “How’d you do that?” She said she set it on fire. I’ve tried it before and it totally helps. I actually melted the sporks the previous year, and melted some of the screen I used with the bottle-cap jumpsuit this past year. … I should note that the fire idea always occurs in the wee hours of the morning.

Costume Drama: A Fashion Show 2018 is a Project Runway-style creation challenge requiring nonconventional materials. This year, 20 designers will compete in four categories: Hardware, Light, Paper, and Revisionist History. $50-$75. Proceeds from ticket sales benefit Asheville Community Theatre (35 E. Walnut St.). The event happens on the main stage Friday, July 6, 7:30 pm. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit ashevilletheatre.org, see the event’s Instagram account (avlcostumedrama) and Facebook page, or call 828-254-1320.

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