A behind-the-scenes glance at our alumni
Interviewed by Allen Lee Hughes. This month: Beth Goldenberg ‘12
What are you currently doing in your life and career that you are proud of?
I’ve been fortunate to work on a lot of projects I really believe in, with good collaborators and relevant, meaningful stories. This past season I designed several shows at Juilliard and it was great getting to know that shop and group of students across a very wide range of plays and operas. Right now I’m working with a couple young, interesting opera companies here in New York, which is keeping things exciting.
You graduated in 2012 and your career has been very productive. What secrets, principles, talents, assistance, and support do you feel have made you so successful?
I don’t know if “successful” is ever a useful word, but I have been very fortunate to build relationships with a handful of directors and companies that I really love working with. Some people tell you to take every job when you first graduate, but one of the big challenges for me has been working out the balance of taking on enough work to start building a career and connections, while making sure I leave myself enough time to work those projects with the level of commitment and integrity that make you valuable to your directors.
Have you worked with any NYU alumni or current students? How did that work out?
I have worked with many alums and had wonderful experiences, whether it’s reuniting with old classmates (I think Jason Ardizonne-West and I are up to #7?), or getting to collaborate with alums that graduated before me, like Lap Chi Chu, or even faculty, like Robert Wierzel. I’m also so grateful for the kindnesses alums showed in hiring me when I first graduated. When you are struggling just to make ends meet, it means a lot to feel like you are walking into a community of designers. I try to pay it back by hiring and recommending other alums whenever I can. Strengthening the community helps us all.
What moment(s) of your career are you most proud of?
Getting to design at Glimmerglass was a huge honor. I had started there years before in the crafts shop, and later worked there as an assistant. It was the place that first inspired me to work in opera. I remember sneaking into the back of the house at a sitzprobe with an armful of smelly boots I was supposed to bring back to the shop, and stealing those five minutes to just get wrapped up in the music. It was a really moving experience that stayed with me. It was a huge honor to be asked to return as a designer, and it was comforting to have my first big design job be somewhere that felt like home.
When did you get interested in theater and how?
I’ve been interested in theatre ever since I can remember. As soon as I realized that costume design was an actual job, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve never felt the desire to question that.
As you design and meet the challenges of being a freelance artist, are there any voices that you particularly hear from the aggregation of voices?
Constance and Susan have been enormous influences. Whenever I get stuck, I still hear their voices challenging me to understand the research, to know what I’m trying to express and to hold myself accountable.
From outside of school:
It may be an odd thing to quote here, but there’s a scene from Godfather II where Lee Strasberg tells Al Pacino emphatically “this is the business that we’ve chosen”. It’s become a bit of an inside joke and there have been many times when a well-timed Lee Strasberg impersonation of this line has made me or one of my stressed-out colleagues stop and laugh. It’s funny but it’s true. Any job comes with its ups and downs, and I know that design will never be easy, but it’s nice to be reminded of perspective. I believe the quote was about a murder, and it’s good to remember that my greatest anxieties generally revolve around clothes for imaginary people. Nobody dies of costume design.
Are there any challenges and/or rewards that you feel costume designers have that are different ones that other designers may have?
The sheer level of logistics that come into play for costume designers can be maddening—dealing with budgets, shopping and transporting. It can be a real uphill battle to get the support you need. Since we work in a more self-contained way, I often find that small New York companies don’t always seem to understand how all that work gets done. I have a rule that I try to be transparent about this. I’ll ask for what I need and explain why I need it, in the hope that, not only will I get that support, but that I can leave the company a little more knowledgeable and supportive for the next costume designer that comes after me.
As far as rewards, I love how we get to collaborate with the performers like no other department. You have all these other collaborators working with you to create these characters, and when a design really works it’s fun to see it take off in the hands of an actor.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Congratulations to all the graduating students this month! You know how hard you’ve worked to get here, and it’s worth taking the moment to celebrate. Be kind to one another and be kind to yourselves, and remember to have fun!