While New York’s Halloween season saw its fair share of topical pop culture costumes, one intrepid theater artist took on 2022’s unofficial and least-liked celebrity: the spotted lanternfly. Freelance designer Brendan McCann turned to the infamous invasive pest for inspiration, then risked being squished in a spectacular photo shoot which he generously shared with W42ST.
“I definitely fall into the category of keeping up with guilty pleasure-style trends,” said Brendan after his pitch-perfect photoshoot in Midtown. For the designer, who also works in patron services at the Theater Development Fund (TDF) and the Times Square TKTS booth, the distinctive bug was already a familiar sight. “Sometimes I would kill five or six in a day,” said Brendan, who joined up to squish the pests after reading about their destructive nature.
He quickly got to work visualizing the spotted lanternfly’s distinctive red, brown, white and black wings, constructing the ensemble out of painted bedsheets reinforced with dowels and PVC piping. “I always plan my costumes in my head,” said the self-taught designer, “but I’m more of a plan-as you-go kind of person. I went to the hardware store and knew I needed these four things, and thought, ‘I’m not sure how this is physically going to work, but I’m just going to go with it.’” Toiling well into the night, he completed the costume just before dawn: “while the last glue was drying, I was getting into my bald cap,” said Brendan.
He created an elaborate, large-scale lanternfly – “I did have to walk sideways down the sidewalk,” laughed Brendan – sturdy enough to make its debut in Times Square, where he and photographer Tiffany McCullough put together a jaunty photoshoot in front of the TKTS booth, attracting fans and foes of the spotted lanternfly. “It’s not my first rodeo of having people stop with their camera phones to take pictures,” said Brendan, “and there were a decent number of people who immediately knew what I was.”
And before anyone could squish him, the artist completed a dramatic quick change, de-costuming himself and returning to the TKTS booth. “I took all of the shots in about 45 minutes, wiped off my makeup and put my costume in a bag and went to work!” he laughed.
While the lanternfly costume was one of Brendan’s largest projects, the theater artist has been constructing creations since childhood. “I’m an only child, and when I was younger I became really crafty, because I had the time on my own to create,” said Brendan. “Sometimes my mom would take me to work, and I would go into the supply room and make a sculpture out of everything in there.”
Going to school for theater performance at Staten Island’s Wagner College, Brendan still loved “coming up with new things to make,” he said, “and slowly, that started infiltrating my theater work – I ended up designing more than I was performing.” Encouraged by his mentor, faculty member and Tony Award-winning Broadway veteran Michelle Pawk, Brendan took on production and design work after graduating, including working for producers Tom and Michael D’Angora at Hell’s Kitchen’s Theatre Row, building up his portfolio as a props and costume designer and wardrobe professional.
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When the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shuttered the theater industry, Brendan found himself looking for a creative outlet in quarantine. A lifelong fan of the Met Gala, “I had these curtains laying around from another project, and so I made a costume to go with their theme ‘About Time,’ and threw it on the internet,” he said.
The currency-themed dress was an instant hit, and inspired Brendan to work up even more intricate outfits for the next year’s Gala and upcoming Halloween, including a US Constitution and a (very on-topic) vaccine card. “It became a tradition for me,” he said.
As the city reopened and live theater slowly began its second act, Brendan was granted new opportunities to take his design skills back to the stage, returning to Wagner College to design their production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and constructing props here in Hell’s Kitchen for Playhouse 46 at St Luke’s Stranger Sings musical parody.
Designing the haunted 80s props of Hawkins, Indiana, has been a special treat for the designer. “The entire creative team was so much fun to work with,” said Brendan. “I’ve worked on parody-esque shows before, but I wasn’t familiar with Stranger Things before I got the job. I immediately binged the whole thing and loved it. It was really fun to work with set designer Walt Spangler on some of the magical elements and go really out-there with the sci-fi genre.”
And while his extraterrestrial Stranger Sings work is still live in Hell’s Kitchen — Brendan’s hit spotted lanternfly is in hiding…for now. “I could bring it back, once they take over and we have our Marvel villain movie about them,” he joked. “I’ll lend it to the studio!”