Jennifer Rose Davis’ first bachelor’s degree in studio art prompted a 15-year career in graphic design. Her hobbies and a later bachelor’s degree in music led to a career in designing, acting, musical scoring and costume- and mask-making. The 45-year-old Austinite has received accolades for her work with numerous productions, including Changelings, Rose Rage and Der Bestrafte Brudermord, a 1710 German adaptation of Hamlet as a puppet show recently produced by Austin’s Hidden Room Theater at Shakespeare’s Globe Wanamaker Theater in London.
“When I was young, when everyone else wanted to be ballerinas, I wanted to be Leonardo da Vinci. My dad has always been a great artist. He did drawings and paintings which I would find in different places around the house. That was definitely an early influence, as well as the art books in the library in our house. It was like being on a treasure hunt. Some days I would find a drawing my dad had done while he was overseas in Indonesia; some days I would find one of his books. It was just a constant source of excitement and curiosity.
“During [college] I was into what they call ‘reenactment,’ which is basically a bunch of people who get dressed up in Renaissance costumes and go out and sword fight. I started learning all these different kinds of things like sewing and costuming and leatherwork, which was my first foray into creation of that kind. I wanted to fence, and so I started learning how to do leatherwork so I could create things for my fencing gear.
“I also took an Intro to Music course while getting my first degree. In that class there was this one song that was a troubadour song and I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it so much that I learned it phonetically off the tape until I destroyed the tape. And then I thought, ‘I’m in the UT Fine Arts Library every day. There’s this whole floor that’s nothing but music. Maybe I could find this song.’ So I started rooting through the library, trying to find this song. I didn’t for years. But what I found was Elizabethan lute songs, which worked perfectly for this reenactment society. So I put together little songbooks and I taught my friends … and we would sing them when we did these events. When my reenactment group said they wanted to do a Shakespeare play, I said, ‘I could do the music for you.’ When we started forming an actual theater troupe within the reenactment society, we called ourselves ‘The Baron’s Men.’ It was named after a friend of ours who was a baron and had done a lot of small theatrical events and had inspired us.
“A bunch of my friends in this reenactment society worked for Richard Garriott. He had one of the first computer-gaming companies here in Austin. Richard liked our group and said, ‘What if I build you a theater?’ That’s how the Curtain Theater came into being. He basically built it for our troupe, and they still do stuff out there. We started charging money, started becoming a real theater group. Then I actually directed a play with them, which was my last big thing with them. It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and was tremendously successful.
“That was really the beginning of my costume-creating career, because it got nominated for best costumes by the B. Iden Payne [awards], and then people started calling me for work: ‘Are you the person who did costumes for Midsummer?’ I was about 38 or 39, completely changing careers.
“There are so many things that I love to do. Why neglect yourself if you have the opportunity?”