Tony-nominated costume designer Paul Tazewell spent last Thursday sharing his work and wisdom with students at his alma mater – the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Tazewell, a 1986 UNCSA graduate, spent the day with about 40 School of Design and Production students taking a weeklong Intensive Arts mini-term. In addition to discussing his work and the creative process behind his designs, the Akron, Ohio native shared his journey to success. He also gave pointed critiques of the students’ designs.
Their sketches – and the material swatches that coincided with them – lined a wall of the classroom. Tazewell took his time with each student, dispensing thorough and thoughtful advice and encouraging them to be as authentic and expressive as possible.
“ … To make the first choice that comes to your head, you’re making a surface character choice; it is not enough,” he told one student. “You really need to go deeper into who (the characters) are, where they come from and what’s going on.”
Tazewell has garnered five Tony nominations over the course of his 23-year long career. “Side Show,” his latest show, is directed by Academy Award-winner Bill Condon. It recently ended its run at at Lejolla Playhouse in San Diego and will move to the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Art in Washington, D.C. in June.
Tazewell always loved theater. In high school, he wanted to be a performer and only dabbled in costumes. His interest in costume design flourished at UNCSA.
“I thought I would be type cast less as a costume designer than I would be as an actor,” said Tazewell, who also has a master’s degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Tazewell designed for regional and Off-Broadway productions initially. His big break came when noted director and playwright George C. Wolfe recruited him for his first Broadway hit “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk,” which garnered him his first Tony nomination. His other credits include “The Color Purple,” “In the Heights,” “Memphis” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” all of which earned him a Tony nod.
“It is a coming together of everything I enjoy doing. It’s researching, it’s interpreting the text of the story, it’s working with my hands and the fabric … all those elements come together,” Tazewell, the winner of two Helen Hayes Awards, the Lucille Lortel Award, a Princess Grace Fellowship and the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design Award, said of costume design.
Bill Brewer, who teaches costume design at UNCSA, said it was beneficial for students to hear from such an accomplished UNCSA alumnus. Kizzie Martin, a UNCSA alumna who designs costumes for films, was also among the special guests who addressed the mini-term, which also included special workshops.
All schools at UNCSA conduct such Intensive Arts sessions to allow professors to expand students’ educational experience.
“We use this Intensive Arts time as an opportunity to address some aspects of the business that don’t fall under the structure of our normal classes,” Brewer said.
Tazewell provided Sarah Gray, a third-year undergrad from Jacksonville, Fla., with feedback on her designs for “The Lion in Winter.” She read about Tazewell’s success when she was considering attending UNCSA; his story was one of the reasons she enrolled at the school.
“Paul Tazewell is a really successful graduate from our program, so it’s really interesting to see what he knows and what he can say to us, knowing he went through what we are currently going through too,” she said.
Kendra Weeks, a third year graduate student from Birmingham, Ala, received Tazewell’s critiques for her designs for a contemporary take on “Romeo and Juliet.”
“In my undergraduate (years), we never got this kind of exposure to designers, so UNCSA, to have the type of alumni that they do and the network that they do is kind of invaluable to us,” said the University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate.
See all of the photos from Tazewell’s visit to his alma mater,UNCSA, during Arts Intensive here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.693913400640865.1073741865.355902327775309&type=1&l=52b8ea27c5