Students like coming to UMKC because UMKC Theatre equally stresses both costume design and costume technology, said Lindsay W. Davis, UMKC Theatre professor of costume design. Many programs make students choose a degree program which concentrates on one or the other, he said. Learning all the skills to do both is extremely difficult.
“We concentrate on building a variety of artistic and technical skills,” Davis said. “We copy period artistic styles of drawing and painting, learning the costume history and styles as we experience them.”
From a technology perspective, students learn tailoring, pattern making, advanced sewing techniques, mask making, prosthetics and casting, painting and dyeing fabric, and millinery. They are also given a class in hair styles and wig ventilation, in “how to hand tie single hairs into a net base” to create period wigs.
“We believe that costume design and costume technology are inseparable,” Davis said. “The fact that our students do learn and have had success in both design and technology is a testament to our approach to our arts education approach,” he said.
Although ratings can be arbitrary, Davis said UMKC’s costume design students’ placement in the educational and entertainment industry have helped enormously. A key factor in establishing the ranking is UMKC Theatre’s annual representation at the two major MFA design program portfolio reviews; Design Showcase West in Los Angeles, and the National Design Portfolio Review, in New York City.
“We go head to head with all of the top programs in the country who also show at those reviews,” Davis said. “The annual USITT National Convention is another place where our students’ show prowess. We enter the juried Young Designers’ Forum which only accepts 15 participants from the whole United States. We usually have two or three students show each year.”
A national ranking like the one by The Hollywood Reporter helps UMKC Theatre recruit new students.
“Most students in the entertainment industry want to be on the coast in the hubs of New York or Los Angeles,” Davis said. “This ranking helps us convince the best students to join the thriving theatre community in Missouri. When students make campus visits to UMKC from other states, they are always surprised to see how large our Kansas City Theatre community is, and more importantly, how integrated UMKC Theatre is in the fabric of our city’s professional theatres. For the faculty, it is reaffirming that our commitment to and belief in our students and the techniques that we employ to teach them are all successful and are producing results.”
Davis said one of the best thing about UMKC Theatre’s program is the comradery between students, and between the students and the faculty.
“We also encourage close-knit relationships between our current students and our graduates. In many cases, former students employ our most recent graduates, easing them into the entertainment industry,” Davis said. “This system is mutually beneficial since our well trained recent graduates are working at entry-level positions in support systems for our more experienced grads.”
Katherine Davis (not related to Lindsay Davis) is a second-year costume design student and expects to graduate May 2019. She chose UMKC because of the professors.
“They really get you to push your own boundaries and to become a much better designer and technician,” Katherine said.
While in high school, Katherine didn’t know that a person could study costume design, so she focused on art.
“I always liked sewing and creating things, but fashion design just didn’t feel right,” Katherine said. “It wasn’t until I peeked into the costume shop while touring what would become my undergrad university. It was one of those golden ‘Ah-ha’ moments. I switched my major and have never looked back.”
After graduation, Katherine hopes to move to Chicago or New York City and start working and designing.
“I would really love to get the chance to design on London’s West End or design for BBC.”
Katherine’s career goals are like that of other UMKC Theatre graduates.
Doug Enderle was UMKC’s first MFA costume design graduate in 1981. He received an Emmy for his work for The Walt Disney Company at which he was a senior lead costume designer. Tom Houchins is currently a costumer on Grey’s Anatomy and Jonathan Knipscher is lead tailor on The Greatest Showman. UMKC Theatre graduates have worked as costume designers or costume makers at HBO, The Metropolitan Opera, The Los Angeles Opera, on Broadway, London’s West End, the Market Theater in South Africa, as well as opera companies in Brazil, Italy and throughout the United States. Regional theaters recent graduates have worked at include Ford’s theater in D.C., The Roundabout Theater in NYC, The Cleveland Playhouse, The Old Globe in San Diego. Pheobe Boynton MFA 2008 was costume supervisor on Norwegian and Oceania cruise line, and also designed for the Discovery channel group and YouTube Red.
When asked about The Hollywood Reporter ranking, Katherine said she is proud that UMKC is on that list.
“This program offers the graduate students so many opportunities to work alongside professionals in Kansas City,” Katherine said. “The co-productions that we do not only give us valuable learning experience, but it’s helping build our networks and bridge the gap between university and professional theatre.”
Currently, there are seven MFA costume design students at UMKC. There are also three undergrad theater majors who are costume concentrators. Since Davis and Sarah M. Oliver, assistant teaching Professor of Costume Technology, arrived at UMKC in 2001 through May 2018 UMKC Theatre will have graduated 29 costume MFA students.
UMKC MFA costume design and technology graduates since Davis and Oliver arrived at UMKC.
2018 Caroline Allander
2017 Gretchen Halle and Elizabeth Still
2016 Marc Vital, Caitlin Tuten and Max Archimedes Levitt
2015 Tyler Wilson
2014 Kate Mott, Lauren Gaston and Lauren Roark
2013 Genevieve Beller and Aaron Chvatal
2012 Allison Dillard
2011 Suzanne Mann
2010 Lacy Hansen, Larissa McConnell and Renee Garcia
2009 Nadine Grant, Kelly Kasper and Megan Turek
2008 Pheobe Boynton and Kate Mincer
2007 Antonia Ford-Roberts
2006 Adrienne Harper, Jonathan Knipscher and Erica Sword
2005 Whitney Locher
2004 Rebecca Eastman
2003 Michelle Bohn