Graduates show their costume design on stage, classroom

Othello at Riverside Theater photo credit Bob Goodfellow
Othello at Riverside Theater

While many graduate students from UMKC achieve success in either the professional world or the field of education, lucky are those who understand the challenges of balancing each. The UMKC costume department teaches students to excel at both. Tyler Wilson, Lauren Roark, and Larissa McConnell are three of many examples of success from the graduate design and costume program.

Tyler Wilson, who teaches for Wake Forest University, has designed at various regional companies. Before he entered academia, Wilson’s designs graced the stage of the Riverside Theatre in Iowa City. Iowa was treated to his creations for shows such as Cyrano de Bergerac and Othello. Wilson’s relationship with Riverside was born from his work at UMKC, and 2015 marked his third year working for the company. He believes that the training he received at UMKC jump started his career: “The opportunity to collaborate with a variety of directors throughout the professional theatre in Kansas City was a thrilling introduction to the pace and expectations of professional theatre in the Midwest.”

Costume sketch for Lagotry in Othello at Riverside Theater
Costume sketch for Lagotry in Othello at Riverside Theater

Wilson believes that the most valuable lesson he learned while in the graduate program was how to solve problems quickly.  He believes that, for artists, “the biggest death sentence is an artistic block and the inability to move forward in a design. Working with an abundance of theatres and directors, I gleaned a clear understanding of what the universal expectations and challenges are that arise while designing a show. Wilson’s exposure to UMKC’s problem solving helped him prepare to be a truly collaborative designer, and gave him the skills necessary to work in the professional world.

Lauren Roark (University of North Carolina-Pembroke), has designed Richard II at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and will design the St. Louis Repertory Theatre’s production of Satchel Paige, which will also see an additional production at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Roark professes she received her most important training at UMKC, where she was “given numerous opportunities to design in Kansas City, to intern at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C., and to work in Asia.Of the many skills and lessons that Roark acquired at UMKC, the most important was the ability to trust her designs and to eliminate fear. During her second year in the department, she travelled to Hong Kong “to source and manufacture menswear for a production of The School for Scandal produced by Riverside Theatre in the Park.” These primary lessons helped her to understand the design process, as well as how to communicate effectively.

Larissa McConnell accepted a job at Gustavus Augustus College where she teaches classes such as Costume Craft and Design, Costume Construction, as well as others. She earned her BS in Secondary Education/ Earth Science at the State University of New York at Fredonia, which she believes helped prepare her to teach effectively. Her recent professional work includes being the Costume Designer/Shop Manager at the Bay View Music Festival in Petoskey, Michigan.

McConnell’s professional work has aided her in easily exceling in the academic sphere. Remembering her UMKC training, McConnell understood that students working in the costume shop are there to learn. She affirms, Each project must take into account the skill level of the student involved. There are times when the student’s learning experience trumps production expectations.”

The training that Wilson, Roark and McConnell received gave them the necessary knowledge and skills to be both teachers and to have professional careers. They possess the dynamic duality that are the hallmarks of the graduates of the costume department at UMKC.  
by Dalton Pierce