Broadway choreographer Ken Roberson joins IU Musical Theatre Faculty to help students “hone the craft”.

By Whit Emerson


Ken Roberson works with Musical Theatre B.F.A. students

How does one go from a degree in journalism to choreographing the smash hit Avenue Q? New professor of musical theatre practice Kenneth L. Roberson smiles as he readies his response, “My family was known to be great social dancers, including my father.” So it runs in the family? “The first thing I choreographed was a piece on the playground in first grade to Marvin Gaye.” It seems experience and environment are equally effective at giving you an edge in your career.

Roberson loved modern dance and musical theatre, performing in plays at the University of Georgia. After graduating with his degree in journalism, Roberson worked for a newspaper but continued to take dance classes. He flew up from Georgia to see The Wiz in New York, his first Broadway show. It was then that he knew eventually he was going to perform on those stages.

Roberson.kennethRoberson’s first professional off-Broadway show was the doo-wop musical Avenue X. He worked on and off Broadway as an actor, dancer, and choreographer for the next 15 years. Roberson went to many “cattle call” auditions for Broadway shows. Outside of one audition, a record company scout asked Roberson to be part of his group. With the addition of 4 more people the disco dance group Fantasy was formed. “It was different, it was fun,” Roberson smiles. They even had a Billboard top 10 hit and toured cross-country.

How did he make the transition from actor and dancer to choreographer? “I would be in rehearsal and directors would ask me things, and I would stay around and look. So I started assisting choreographers.” From there Roberson got a job assisting famous choreographer Hope Clarke with the Tony-winning Broadway musical Jelly’s Last Jam, directed by George C. Wolfe. Tap legend Gregory Hines played the lead in that show. “It was magical. It was all you want it to be. His generosity with other dancers and his respect for the work did not go unnoticed and stays with us.”

Eventually his choreography work lead him to the smash hit Avenue Q. Roberson enjoyed the challenge of working with actors and puppeteers. He had to walk a fine line in designing the dances, “We didn’t want the puppeteers to look like bad puppeteers.” But some puppets had to look like bad dancers. “It was humbling to work with the puppeteers and puppets.”

One of his favorite productions to choreograph was Guys and Dolls in the round at Arena Stage. The entire cast were first rate dancers. Roberson smiles and quips, “They had feet.” Is that a dig at Avenue Q? “No!” Roberson laughs.

So what is the most important thing for musical theatre students to learn? “Make a fair assessment of yourself, set your goals and work towards them. Hone the craft, hone the craft, do the work, hone, hone, hone.” Sounds like a lot of good, hard work. “Listen to constructive criticism. Your gut knows.” Great words of advice that any student can take to heart.

Roberson’s IU Theatre directing debut will be Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS, coming to the Ruth N. Halls Theatre in April of 2015.

Whit Emerson is a first-year PhD student. Whit graduated from Appalachian State University with a B.A. in theatre arts and the University of Central Florida with an M.A. in theatre studies.
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A man of few words – Tarell Alvin McCraney play to be performed at IU

RB Water McCraney

Jean-Marc Giboux | John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationTarell Alvin McCraney was a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. The playwright’s “In the Red and Brown Water” will be open Friday at the IU Theatre.

Through the wonders of electronic mail, I was able to have a conversation with Tarell Alvin McCraney, the author of “In the Red and Brown Water.” For a prolific playwright, I found him to be a man of relatively few words, but I was able to get some more details from exactly the kind of mind that earned a MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grant.

McCraney was born in 1980 in the Liberty City area of Miami, Fla. He attended New World School of the Arts High School, earning an Exemplary Artist Award. After high school, he studied at the Theater School at DePaul University in Chicago, receiving the Sarah Siddons Award and a BFA in acting. Beyond college, Tarell attended the British-American Drama Academy (BADA) at Oxford, studying Shakespeare. But his education didn’t stop there. From the Yale School of Drama, he earned an MFA in playwriting, along with its Cole Porter Award.

With this impressive background, doors opened for him, including Chicago’s Northlight and Steppenwolf Theater companies. I asked him how this opportunity has made him a better playwright, and he responded, “Being an ensemble member at Steppenwolf allows me the freedom to write for a company of actors, directors and artists that I know, love and trust.”

Among his theatrical influences, he lists such acclaimed playwrights as John Guare, August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Amy Herzog, Arthur Miller, Anton Chekov and Katori Hall. With Tarell’s impressive lineup of written works, he undoubtedly appears on the inspiration lists of many young playwrights himself.

In addition to “In the Red and Brown Water” (part of his “Brother/Sister Plays” trilogy), Tarell is the author of “Head of Passes,” “Choir Boy,” “American Trade,” “Without/Sin,” “Wig Out!” and “Run, Mourner, Run.” He also co-authored “The Breach,” a story of post-Katrina New Orleans.

I wondered what led him to choose rural Louisiana as the setting for “In the Red and Brown Water,” and his answer surprised me: “I didn’t. I placed it near the bayou, and everyone assumed that’s where it was, so I said sure, it can take place there.”

When I referred to McCraney’s storytelling style as groundbreaking, he was quick to remind me, “The employ of story theater in my work is not a new theatrical device. The form has been used in theater practice from Peter Brook to Noh. It allows the actors to tell the story directly to the audience and allows them to experience the movement of the story together rather than in two separate spaces.”

Having worked as a writer, actor, and director, Tarell observes, “Theater work is collaborative; it’s important to know what your collaborators do in service of the work.”

The interviewer got himself interviewed when I asked Tarell what he’d say to H-T readers to encourage them to come see his play. He replied, “Do you like the play?” (That’s a yes from me, by the way.) “You know your readers better than I do. What would you say to one of them if they said, ‘Red and Brown Water? About impoverished people in the South? Why should I see it?’ What would you say to them? Are they interested in stories about places far away yet right next door? Are they inspired by people who seemingly are different to them, yet somehow dealing with the same desire to love, live and thrive? To be honest, I hope I have put my best creative efforts inside the play rather than the pitch to see it.”

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Story Link

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La otra América: “In the Red & Brown Water” enlazando Africa, España y los Estados Unidos

By David Walsh and Sonia Velázquez

David Koté, director y profesor del programa de maestría en artes en el departamento de Teatro de Indiana University, quiso que la obra debutante de este año fuera algo insólito para sus estudiantes y el público. Leyó un gran número de manuscritos pero seguía resonando para él una obra que vio en 2008 y que fue realmente una experiencia única.

La obra, In the Red and Brown Water (En el agua roja y marrón) se estrenó en el Alliance Theatre de Atlanta, Georgia—ciudad natal de Koté—y desde entonces se ha representado con mucho éxito en lugares prestigiosos como el Public Theatre de Nueva York, en el Fountain Theatre de Los Angeles y el Young Vic de Londres. Escrito por el dramaturgo de Chicago Tarell Alvin McCraney, la obra toma lugar en la Luisiana rural y trata de una adolescente Afroamericana quien debe vivir con las consecuencias de la decisión que tomó de quedarse en su pueblo para cuidar a su madre enferma en lugar de aceptar una beca universitaria para estudiar y competir en pruebas de atletismo.

“Me crié cerca del trópico de Capricornio con huracanes tan comunes como picaduras de mosquitos. Vientos lo suficientemente fuertes para hinchar las velas de los barcos y las noches estrelladas que hacen que los viajes de Colón parezcan distantes y todavía no actual. Sin embargo ahí, en medio de esa belleza vemos traficantes de drogas que gestionan las esquinas de igual medida Wall Street y Beirut.” La cita es de McCraney, en una entrevista para el teatro de McCarter en Princeton, Nueva Jersey, que puso en escena su obra hace poco. “He vivido en la otra América: la América que no se ve en el cine; la América que se nos pide que pretendamos que no existe. Escribí estas obras como mi esfuerzo por inventar un teatro que contara esas historias que no se escuchan.”

Red  Brown Finals 9Aunque In the Red and Brown Water toma lugar en Luisiana, la obra incorpora personajes y temas del folklor Yoruba del Suroeste de Nigeria subrayando así el legado Africano dentro de la vida de los Afroamericanos. Pero sorprendentemente, la obra de McCrary también tiene enlaces con Yerma (1934), obra central del dramaturgo español, Federico García Lorca. Ambas obras ponen en escena las frustraciones de dos jóvenes que luchan por alcanzar si ya no éxito, al menos la mínima satisfacción de haber traído una nueva vida al mundo. Sin embargo, ni la titular Yerma ni Oya encuentran salida alguna a sus trágicas circunstancias y se ven redimidas al final por actos voluntarios de incomprensible violencia. Pero los ecos de Lorca—poeta, músico, dramaturgo, colaborador de los surrealistas Luis Buñuel y Salvador Dalí—no se limitan a la trama. Tanto McCrary como Lorca tienen un oído finísimo para representar las cadencias típicas del habla de su pueblo, un talento para destacar imágenes a la vez novedosas y cargadas de significado casi mítico, y una empatía hacia todos sus personajes que hacen que sus obras sean a la vez experiencias íntimas y transcendentales. De esta manera In the Red and Brown Water representa el poder de culturas múltiples fuertemente entrelazadas en las vidas y cultura de la Luisiana contemporánea.

“Es importante poder sentir y apreciar aquellas historias que no corresponden a nuestro propio campo de experiencia” dice el director de In the Red and Brown Water, David Koté mientras espera el comienzo del ensayo de la obra afuera del Studio Theatre. “Me encantó haber vistor M. Butterfly en escena aquí en IU por la misma razón. A mi parecer, es una responsabilidad que tenemos como artistas de presentar a nuestro público historias desde otras perspectivas y cuentos de otras culturas o a lo mínimo de otros barrios—contar las experiencias de aquella gente y lugares en los cuales no nos detendríamos a considerar si no fuera porque una obra de arte nos ha hecho la invitación.”

La obra, In the Red and Brown Water, de Tarell Alvin McCraney y dirigida por David Koté debuta el 5 de diciembre a las 7:30 PM y continúa en escena 12/6, 12/9-13 y 9/12 a las 2PM en el Wells-Metz Theatre de la Indiana University. Boletos desde $15 (estudiantes), $20 (adultos de tercera edad) y $25 público general. Para más información, consulte

(Reprinted from El Boletín Comunitario, December 2014, The City of Bloomington Community and Family Resources, Latino Programs and Outreach.)

David Walsh is a first-year M.F.A. playwright in the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. Sonia Velázquez is Assistant Professor in both the Theatre Department and IU’s Department of Religious Studies.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’ – IU Theatre’s production will likely live up to Jane Austen fans’ expectations

Review headerBy Matthew Waterman H-T Reviewer

The five Bennet sisters are uniformly unwed at the outset of Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice.” Without any male heirs, their father’s meager fortune will fall into the hands of Mr. Collins, the odious cousin of the Bennet sisters. Thus is incited the family’s quest for matrimony en masse.

Each character approaches the matter with different expectations of what a marriage should be; some value love, some value dowry and some value reputation. It’s not hard to guess which two aspects of human nature cause much of the conflict in the story (hint: check the title).

“Pride and Prejudice” is brought from page to stage this week by IU Theatre. Jon Jory, the artistic director credited with bringing Actors Theatre of Louisville to prominence, wrote the adaptation, and IU professor Dale McFadden directed.

Emily Harpe stars as Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest of the sisters. Harpe strongly plays up Elizabeth’s wit, earthiness and sensibility. One can’t help but admire her character’s talent for the frank rejection of undesirable men.

Opposite her is Josh Krause as Fitzwilliam Darcy, the wealthy suitor who quickly garners Elizabeth’s abhorrence. Mr. Darcy’s poor social skills make for a rocky start to his pursuits in the play.

A tender romance develops between the eldest Bennet daughter, Jane (Mara Lefler), and the charming Charles Bingley (Jason Craig West). Lefler and West are endearing and heartwarming without crossing into mawkishness.

George Wickham (Austin Wilson) throws a wrench into the works by wooing Elizabeth, then unexpectedly claiming a different Bennet sister as his bride. Wilson underscores Wickham’s allure with subtle tones of sly menace.

Jory’s adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” dials up the humor of the story. When the refined etiquette of the Regency Era breaks down, comic awkwardness follows. McFadden’s direction juices these moments delightfully.

Those who haven’t read the novel may find it difficult to track the plot of “Pride and Prejudice.” Austen weaves together a multitude of threads in the story, and Jory leaves relatively little on the cutting room floor.

Audiences are transported to Regency England by the script’s erudite and archaic language, Kelsey Nichols’ costumes, Andrea Ball’s set and the period movement (coached and choreographed by guest artist Nira Jean Pullin).

On a political level, “Pride and Prejudice” examines the period’s cultural attitudes concerning class and family. The play pokes fun at the upper class with snobbish characters such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Ashley Dillard).

“Pride and Prejudice” proves a worthwhile outing, and will likely live up to the expectations of Austen fans.

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.

WHAT: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, adapted for stage by Jon Jory.

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday.

TICKETS: $15-25. Available by phone at 812-855-1103 or online at

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Story Link

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Just Like A Butterfly

by Lucia Xiaoran Zhu

It seems like the butterfly is always a popular metaphor choice in eastern theme stories, from the Chinese folktale The Butterfly Lovers (Chinese: Liang Zhu) to Puccini’s most well known opera Madame Butterfly (which inspired M. Butterfly). While most people compare the butterfly to a woman who is beautiful, delicate, and fragile, I prefer to see it as a figure that is struggling with her assigned destiny changing from one state to another, as are both Cho-Cho-San (heroine of Madame Butterfly) and Song Liling (heroine of M. Butterfly). Song Liling’s story sounds dramatic and audiences may doubt the truth of her experience. How similar is it to the real life story?

LuciaWhether or not you think this is true, the pain people suffered during the Cultural Revolution of 1960s China is immeasurable. And in that unconscionable 10 years, many people’s lives were changed permanently. My grandmother is one of those people whose destiny was hugely changed by China’s Cultural Revolution.

My grandmother had two dreams when she was young: to be a writer, and to be an engineer. Women in her generation who received a good education are rare to see in 1950s China, since most of the Chinese were still facing hunger at that time. She is not only knowledgeable in classical and western literature, but also adept in solving mathematical problems. Even now when she is well into her seventies, she is still able to tutor my little cousin’s high school algebra mathematics. She is the one who first read theatre stories to me when I was still in preschool, and I still remember the first Chinese drama she read to me was Thunderstorm. The first Western drama I know from her was Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Though she was a brilliant woman, all the universities rejected her application. The only reason was because of her background: she was a daughter of a capitalist. Capitalism was a sharp word. Chinese society had accepted that it was reasonable to force those who embraced it to live like dirt because, as M. Butterfly’s Comrade Chin says, “you lived above common people” and should feel shame. I have to say my grandmother was lucky that she wasn’t hurt. Since she was just a student and didn’t live with her “capitalist” family, the red guards didn’t harm her physically, though she was robbed of the opportunity to receive higher education and could not realize her dream of becoming an engineer. Later, for a more stable life, she chose to go to work in a fabric factory as one of the “Proud Labor”.

Reading is my grandmother’s hobby, but all literature books from Western countries (especially Britain, America, France) were forbidden in China during the Cultural Revolution because they are “poisons from capitalist countries”. Therefore, the only way my grandmother could read literature was to borrow from her sister’s husband, a general in the Navy whose position was high enough to have these restricted materials at home. My grandmother told me that she wrapped those books with many pieces of newspaper, to make the book titles invisible so that no one would know that she is reading something forbidden. And everyday when she took a break from working on the machine, she would just find a remote corner, reading books quietly until her break ended.

Time flies fast when you have to spend most of your time struggling to earn a better living, with no time to devote to fulfilling your own dreams. Being a factory worker will not allow you to have much time to write a book, especially when you have two children to educate. For my grandmother, when she finally realized that she was dreaming to be a writer and an engineer, she was already old. My grandfather passed away in February this year, which was a shock for my grandmother and it also worsened her health: she has not been able to read or write since that time. Now she can only spend her time watching TV or going to the theatre to watch the Chinese Opera or theatre production. This summer she was complaining to me about how Thunderstorm has become a comedy in modern audiences’ eyes since the time has changed so much. I hope one day I can produce a play for my grandmother, I hope one day I can be capable enough to tell a beautiful story to her as what she did to me many many years ago.

M. Butterfly means more than a normal IU Theatre main stage production for me, I spend all my love and passion on this play, and I feel grateful that this play allows me to make connections with both my multi-cultural background and skills I obtained in the past two decades. Every minute I work for this production makes me feel how wonderful my life is with theatre. Personally, “butterfly” reminds me of my grandmother, who could not say “no” to all the unfairness she was given. This play, M. Butterfly just like a mirror that reflects those political events my grandmother might have gone through long ago.

As an assistant director, each time when I come to the rehearsal, watching this story performed live in front of me, I am reminded that no matter if it is a celebrity’s theatrical story like Song Liling’s or a common person’s story like my grandmother’s, the truth is they did actually happen in real history.

If you are available from Oct. 24th to Nov. 1st, please come to join us at the Wells-Metz Theatre to watch David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly! It is a fantasy. It is reality. Give us a chance, and we will fulfill Song Liling’s promise to “further expand your mind!”

Many thanks to our director Prof. Murray McGibbon who offers me this opportunity to work on M. Butterfly; I have an intuition that this production will change my life. And also special thanks to our department’s former faculty Prof. Fontaine Syer, who is the one that brought me back to the stage again.

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IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance welcomes Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown

Nyama2IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance professor Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown has made it her mission to focus on cultural diversity in dance. “Dance is a human experience, a medium that facilitates social interaction and promotes social justice. It is a platform for performance and a conduit for spirituality.” McCarthy-Brown is inspired by a desire for the Arts to be culturally responsive and inclusive. “Ballet is fabulous,” she says, “but western dance training relies too much on ballet for its legitimacy. I’d like to see our orientation widen to include more ways of understanding dance and also reflect the diversity of our contemporary society.” With a strong background in dance pedagogy and responsive IU dance students, McCarthy-Brown appears poised to do just that.

Originally from San Francisco, McCarthy-Brown went to Spelman College for her BA in Political Science and the University of Michigan for her M.F.A. in Performance and Choreography. She completed her PhD in Dance Education and Cultural Studies at Temple University, where she was awarded the Future Faculty Fellowship. McCarthy-Brown comes to IU from Bowdoin College where she taught Afro-modern, Cultural Choreographies, jazz, ballet, and African-derived Dances in America. She is excited to join a larger contemporary dance program.

Nyama1McCarthy-Brown has published articles in Dance Chronicle, The Journal of Dance Education, and The Journal of African American Studies focusing on cultural inclusion and the experience of African American ballerinas. People of color in dance and the interplay of theory and practice are vital research interests of hers.

McCarthy-Brown has performed for South African President Thabo Mbeki and studied tango in Argentina. In 2014, she was awarded several grants to interview African American ballet dancers in New York City and study dance with Ron Brown.

McCarthy-Brown shares that she would like to stretch students physically and intellectually to go beyond technique in her dance classes. “Learning the movement phrase and being able to perform it is wonderful. Now, try to think of why you do it. What muscles are moving in your body, how is the movement being motivated? Many students will learn movement, and are eager to perform, knowing what lies underneath is also important. The intellectual-physical connection is especially important in modern dance and both physical and theoretical foundations need to be solid.”

What’s next for McCarthy-Brown? Besides teaching classes, she’ll be presenting in Encounters & Collisions this January and is writing a book. We’ll be looking forward to seeing her work-on both page and stage. You can visit her website at

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Heather Milam will head IU Theatre’s new Costume Technology M.F.A.

Milam.HeatherNewBeginning Fall 2014 the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance will offer an M.F.A. in Costume Technology. Heather Milam, the program’s director, most recently served as the Costume Production Specialist for the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance. She has worked for over a decade as a professional costume-maker, cutter/draper,* and pattern-maker in New York City and at other regional and professional theatres across the country. She and I sat down to talk about her work and what the new degree has to offer.  —Sarah Campbell

Sarah: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to costume technology.

Heather: I have been doing theatre since I was in 6th grade. Back then it was just crossing the stage and being in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. But from high school on I realized I was more of a backstage person. I did stage management, too. I went to undergrad at Ithaca College thinking I wanted to be a director. And the reason I thought that was because when I read a play, I saw it produced in my head. So I thought that meant that I was director-minded. But it turns out that you can use those same visual skills in any field in the theatre.

There was an opening for work study in the costume shop. I had gotten my first sewing machine when I was 13 and had the basic sewing skills, so I figured that was better than flipping burgers in the food court. I took the job and realized that it was something that I really enjoyed doing, that costume design and construction were the area of theatre that I wanted to pursue. At that time at Ithaca they required you to do summer theatre every year, so I started doing summer internships, which led to other jobs. In between my junior and senior year I interned at Barbara Matera Limited, which at the time was the top costume shop in New York City. It was an amazing, life-changing experience for me. They offered me a full-time job once I graduated, so I moved to New York and started working there. I worked there on and off for 12 years—I worked on Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Sunset Boulevard, most of what Broadway was producing from the mid-90s to the 2000s, and I learned from some of the best designers in the industry. I moved up the ranks, as you do in the costume shop. I moved to Phoenix for a little while, did some cutting and draping at the Phoenix Theatre Company. I came back to New York City and did some freelance work there. After that I went into academia. I worked at the University of Alabama for four years and then I got this opportunity.

Sarah: So, what is costume technology?

Heather: It is all of the processes that go into realizing a costume design. So the building of garments, the making of the costume pieces, dressmaking, tailoring, crafts, and millinery.

Sarah: How do you work with the costume designer?

Heather: The costume designer works closest with the director and the other members of the design team, like the set designer or the lighting designer. The costume-maker works, primarily, with the costume designer and then the people who actually make the costumes, which would be the stitchers and others in the costume shop. The designer kind of imagines or creates the idea of what each of the characters will be wearing—or even the functionality, what do they need to be wearing? Also, what they need for the show to indicate different seasons, times of day, or classes, all of that comes from the designer and their research. Then they present their drawings to a draper or a costume-maker and then the costume-maker works with the designer to figure out how it’s going to be built. There are always instances of dealing with how the costume is going to be constructed, whether it needs to be functional in terms of working with a quick change; where holes are going to be, if it needs to fit over other costumes, if it needs to happen really fast, if it needs to be of a certain material. So you work out samples first, that’s often what the first step will be—coming up with a variety of ideas of what the costume will be made of. You collaborate continuously with the designer; that’s really who you work the closest with. Once the designer is satisfied with your proposal, you’ll move forward and work with the shop to build the costume.

Sarah: What is the goal of this program? What do you hope to train students for?

Heather: Well giving the students skills that will allow them to function in a costume shop—that is the primary goal. My specialty is dressmaking and tailoring so that will be, at least in the beginning, the focus of classwork. I worked in a costume shop for many years in New York, and that’s where a lot of my connections still are, but I would like to prepare costume technicians to be able to function in the role of draper, or pattern maker/first hand** out in New York or LA costume shops, regional theatre shops, or Shakespeare companies around the world.

Sarah: How will the students be working in the department and on productions? I know M.F.A. design students work as a designers in IU Theatre productions. What kind of responsibility will costume technology students take on for the productions?

Heather: They will complete their graduate assistant hours in the costume shop working as drapers or first hands. They probably will begin to work on one of the smaller shows or overseeing the alterations for one of the shows that don’t have that many costumes or costumes which aren’t especially complicated. Also for one of the other productions that semester, they would be a first hand to me or for maybe a third-year student. They may not be in charge of how a costume is made, but they are in charge of the stitchers or the other students working in the shop, and they will oversee how that process occurs.

Then they would move up in terms of responsibility to a harder show or a different time period or a different challenge. That’s part of the goal of overseeing the students, that they leave here will all of the necessary skills, whether it’s working in period pattern-making or tailoring, or big builds like a 20-person chorus who all have to be wearing the same thing. I would foresee them having a thesis project that would be similar to the design students—meaning they would do research on different construction methods and innovative technologies in terms of costume production. I would like them to be research-minded as well. I would like them to explore new innovations, materials, and technique, so they can present at conferences. One of the things I would like to see by their third year is that they have done independent research and presented it at a conference like USITT or SETC, and also work on a production where they would be completely in charge of the construction and alterations.

Sarah: Are there other programs like this in the US?

Heather: There are about eight programs that are specific to costume technology. There are a lot of programs that are a dual focus in costume design and technology, probably two or three dozen. The program at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is probably the program that I’ve most modeled my ideas. The person who founded that program, Judy Adamson, was someone I worked with when I was very young when I was in New York, and I saw her transition and build that program from the ground up. Right now that school probably puts out some of the best technologists. But from any of the M.F.A. programs we know— if they’ve gone through three years of intensive training, you can depend on their skill level.

Sarah: What courses are you offering? What do you foresee offering in the future?

Heather: There will be courses in pattern-making, draping, tailoring, period construction, and understructures—like corsets and bustles. They will need to take costume history, the theory/history/literature requirements, and research and collaboration courses along with the other tech/design students. We will offer some special topics courses—these will be offered sporadically depending on the needs or desires of the students. Linda Pisano offers some classes like mask-making and millinery, so if the students are interested in those, they’d obviously be welcome to take those classes. They’d need to take at least one design class, so they understand the language and have the ability to communicate with designers. We are still working on a specific curriculum, but that’s the general idea.

Sarah: What are you the most excited about in launching the program?

Heather: I’m excited to be in a position to train masters of their craft. In our program you will be coming in for three years and 63 credits of costume technology, where your summers are focused at an internship or working with specialists. You’re specifically coming here because you want to master this craft. In the “olden days” this was an apprenticeship field, where tailors start learning to hand sew at the age of five, where they learned from their fathers and brothers and uncles. The apprentices were learning a trade they would be doing for their whole life; they were trained for decades to become really good at what they do. That’s not the environment here in America now, but this is the closest you can get to that model, where you’re working with someone who will allow you to truly specialize in an art.

*Cutter/draper is responsible for the creation of costumes; interpretation of original design work and custom patterning based on the design, and all facets of the construction process for the costumes as well as alterations, fittings, and maintenance of pulled or rented clothing items.

**First hand = the draper’s assistant, working with the draper to construct the costumes. First hands cut the fabric and distribute the work to the stitchers.

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