labricoleuse: For a bit of background for the readers, tell us about the department in which you teach—how many shows, how many students (rough guess is fine), anything that communicates the nature of the academic and theatrical-performance context for your job.
AAP: University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Theatre currently has about 114 undergraduate majors and we are rapidly growing due in part to the addition of a BFA in Musical Theatre in fall of 2015. We do five fully-produced shows including one musical and the Festival of Ten Minute Plays which includes student- and staff-written work. We also have at least four touring shows each year, this year we have five. These touring shows are booked for Friday performances throughout the academic year. Our recent seasons have included Proof, Clybourne Park, Urinetown, Twelfth Night, and Avenue Q.
labricoleuse: Could you describe the costume facilities at your university--how many employees/student workers, what different positions there entail, specialty equipment the shop owns, etc?
AAP: UAB has a lovely Costume Studio that is full of windows We have four large cutting tables, a fitting area, ten Bernina domestic machines, one Pfaff industrial straight stitch machine, four Babylock airthreading overlock machines, two embroidery machines and one Juki industrial serger. Our Craft Room has one large dye vat, a kickpress, a hand press, and a small spray booth with a ventilation hood. We have two costume storage rooms; one is onsite, the other is in another building on campus about a block away.
Our Theatre UAB Costume area is made up of the Costume Director, costume shop manager, faculty designer, 6-8 costume stipend students, 5-8 practicum students who serve on wardrobe crews or work in the shop throughout the semester, and students completing lab hours for THR 125. We have student costume designers every year. These students are mentored by our faculty designer Kim Shnormeier, shop manager Sharon McCoy Morgan, and me.
For each production, costume construction and/or pattern development assignments are thoroughly thought out. We focus on student’s ability levels, their ultimate goals and portfolio development.
labricoleuse: Tell us about the classes you teach—topics, enrollment size, etc. And if it changes each semester, what are you teaching right now?
I teach three sections of costume construction each academic year--the class is capped at ten and fills every semester. Flat pattern drafting and costume crafts are offered every other year. The goals for these courses are gaining knowledge of industry standard terminology and techniques as well as portfolio development. I can teach fifteen in each class. So I am currently teaching two sections of costume construction and serving as Costume Director. I typically drape on two or three of the productions, depending on the season. I mentor students during production work, portfolio development, employment document development, and conduct mock interviews in preparation for SETC job contact service. I enjoy seeing our students get jobs in the field and I love helping them through the process.
I have taught individual study courses in advanced pattern drafting and construction and couture tailoring techniques.
Theatre UAB also offers costume history and period styles, costume design and corset construction courses.
labricoleuse: You recently received a huge donation of antique/vintage clothing. Give us the details on how that has impacted the UAB theatre department!
AAP: Our vintage collection is a study collection. I have used pieces in my costume craft class and for reference for department productions. I look forward to drafting patterns from the vintage garments for reference and research. Kimberly Schnormeier, Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences and our faculty costume designer, uses the vintage pieces while teaching costume history and period styles.
labricoleuse: Can you talk about some of the projects you have worked on recently?
AAP: I am currently collaborating with the UAB Department of Computer and Information Sciences with 3D printing for costume crafts. I look forward to seeing this work come together.
labricoleuse: What is your favorite must-have tool or piece of equipment for the workroom, and why?
AAP: I have to have a kick press and hand press. The kick press with all necessary grommet dies and the hand press with bone cutting and tipping dyes. We make a great deal of corsets here at UAB. Our recent students have at least three corsets in their portfolios.
labricoleuse: What is your background in the area of academia and costume production, and how did you come to teach at UAB?
AAP: I took my first costume class as a freshman in college. Soon I was working in Winthrop University’s costume shop as a teaching assistant and was offered a job after graduation. I worked there for a year while freelancing with professional theatres in Charlotte, NC.
I worked professionally in the area of costume construction with the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, Carolina Ballet, and Santa Fe Opera, and Playmakers Repertory. I also worked on the The Lion King, Hot Feet, and The Phantom of the Opera with Parsons-Meares in New York. I have professional experience as a costume shop manager, draper, first hand, stitcher, and crafts artisan. I work with the St-Arts summer program as an instructor of stage make-up and technical theatre during the summer.
I was the costume shop manager for both Paramount’s Carowinds and the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and have taught theatrical and couture sewing techniques at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Oklahoma City University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Alabama at Birmingham.
I knew I wanted to teach costume production in a university when I was 18 and was lucky to have some talented mentors along the way: Janet Gray, Professor of Theatre at Winthrop University and Judy Adamson, Costume Director and Head of the Costume Production Program at the University of North Carolina.
I was interested in my current position because of the job description, the faculty, staff, the students and the student-centered approach to education in the UAB Theatre Department. The department has 15 full time faculty to mentor student development as an artist, writer, technologist or a writer. In addition we have four full time professional production specialists. I love my job.
I am fortunate to work in a student-centered department. We make our decisions based on what is best for our students. The faculty work well together and are all experienced professionals. We have a very strong professional staff. Our department is able to model theatre as a collaborative art due to their professional experience and talent as artists and technicians.
labricoleuse: What advice would you give to readers who aspire to teach costume production at the university level?
AAP: Work professionally for several years prior to teaching because students deserve to learn from your professional experiences. Do your research and attend a strong graduate program.
Most of all, make sure you want to teach. Students learn from the professional behavior you model. You must be able to collaborate on projects with students that are learning the process from you. If you are frustrated when you work with an intern during summer stock, perhaps teaching is not for you.
labricoleuse: Can you share a photo of a recent project?
I draped this wine and burgundy bonded bodice for In the Next Room,
designed by Kimberly Shnormeier.
Students patterned and constructed her
corset--Phoebe Miller--and bustle petticoat--Samantha Helms.
labricoleuse: Thanks so much for talking with me, Amy, and sharing all of this great info with my readers! Best of luck for the coming season and academic year.