Zach Paugh, costume shop manager at the Houston Ballet, is a relative newcomer to Houston, initially brought here by love and pandemic.
Paugh met his boyfriend on an Atlantis Gay Cruise, just a few months before the COVID-19 shut everything down. At the time, Paugh had been working for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, but the pandemic effectively put an end to his job.
“Not knowing what was going to happen, I decided, ‘Hey, let me shack up with the guy I’m dating,’” Paugh recalls about his decision to make the two-day drive to Houston. The two have been together ever since.
Paugh, who is of Polish and Filipino descent, is the son of two members of the Air Force. He was born in California City, California, near Edwards Air Force Base, and spent most of his childhood in Goodyear, Arizona. In high school, he became involved in theater—primarily as a performer. He had made exactly one costume at one point before enrolling in Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, where he received encouragement to try his hand at costuming.
When Paugh graduated with his bachelor’s degree in costume design and construction, he landed an internship with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. After half a year working on their Zarkana production, he moved to the KÀ Cirque show that was also in Vegas. He worked there for four years until the pandemic shut it down.
He continues his association with the Cirque family through an annual fundraising event called Circus Couture, with proceeds going to the Cure 4 the Kids Foundation. A wide range of designers and performers, many from Cirque, volunteer their talents each year for that foundation. “Fashion, art, circus—those are the hashtags for the event,” Paugh says.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career path,” he admits. “I’m 29, and to hit Cirque right out of college was a huge deal.”
Paugh started at Houston Ballet in June of 2021, so he was in Houston for about a year before landing full-time work in his chosen field. He describes becoming a costume-shop manager as the next step up in his career. “I took this position to get an understanding of the management side of costumes and backstage,” he explains. “At KÀ, it was more alterations—someone running down in the middle of the show with a busted zipper. Okay, how much time do you have? Five minutes? Let me pull out the zipper and add a new one. Here you go, you’re ready to go back on.” That sort of controlled chaos may not be his daily life anymore, but it isn’t any less busy.
For example, for their upcoming revival of La Sylphide, a production from the 1980s, Paugh is having to pull costumes from storage to decide what repairs need to be made, and compare them to old design drawings or production photos in order to keep them true to the original designer’s intent. Once he’s assessed the costumes, he develops the work timeline and assignments in the shop to get it all done. Within that schedule are fittings with the dancers and meetings with other production staff.
Something not everyone may know is that when a Houston Ballet production has multiple casts, the same costume has to be worn by everyone dancing the same character. “It’s very exciting when you get a show with four casts and we have one costume to fit onto six different people, and they’re all different sizes,” Paugh says. “We don’t have the budget or time to give everyone their own costume, so there’s a lot of sharing. Sometimes it’s just one or two costumes, and you just make it work.”
Paugh also has experience as a drag performer—something he hasn’t done yet in Houston. “I have looked into it, but right now, with starting this position with the ballet and then having the majority of my drag outfits still in Las Vegas, I’m waiting until I’m more settled and can eventually make an appearance!”
While he’s enjoying his work at the ballet and contemplating his first Houston drag performance, he has another big goal to think about. “Ultimately, I’d really like to work on spacesuits,” he says. Yes, spacesuits—as in NASA, Space X, and Axiom Space astronauts. “I was thinking, how can I merge my love for Star Wars and what I do now?” He answers his own question as if a lightbulb is appearing above his head. “Wait, someone has to make the spacesuits!” One of his pandemic activities has been taking a course in aerospace structures and materials through edX, an online education hub.
From the circus to the ballet to the drag stage and ultimately to outer space, Paugh is not letting anything stand in his way as he literally reaches for the stars.
For more info, visit houstonballet.org.