When you are a freelance costume designer, a phone call can suddenly set your life in motion. That is what happened to Kate Fulop, class of 2012, when Theatre Department Chair Gregory Ramos called her to see if she would be interested in returning to UVM for one semester to teach the Fundamentals of Costume course and to design costumes for The 39 Steps and Marat/Sade while her mentor, Professor Martin Thaler, was on leave.
Kate, a Theatre major and Film and Television Studies minor, was an obvious choice for Ramos. “I thought of Kate because she had done excellent work as an undergrad here in the department. She showed such promise—her final project was a costume design for a main-stage show in Royall Tyler Theatre. After leaving UVM she received a full scholarship to complete her MFA in costume design at the University of Maryland and had begun to design professionally. Because of her great work ethic and formidable talents, I knew she’d be the perfect fit.”
I sat down with Kate shortly after the opening of Marat/Sade and asked her about her undergraduate years at UVM, how she prepared for graduate school, designing costumes, and what advice she would have for students coming to UVM.
Describe why you came to UVM and how it supported your life goals.
I discovered costume design in high school, and I knew I was incredibly interested in the subject but I wasn’t ready to make that big decision before trying out other career paths. I chose UVM because it gave me the option to pursue a degree in theatre but it also provided the flexibility to explore, and if desired, pursue a different path from theatre without transferring schools.
I toured the Theatre Department and Professor Martin Thaler asked me a question that no other college professor had yet to do. He actually asked me what I wanted out of a degree! He then offered a plan to achieve that goal. We agreed that if I was a dedicated hardworking student, I would get an education that would prepare me to work professionally and give me the portfolio to land a full scholarship to graduate school. And all of that came true.
Over four years I worked on all three main-stage productions and a number of student written/directed one acts. Alan Mosser, Costume Shop Supervisor, offered me an incredible amount of one-on-one training and guidance. In addition, Martin planned a curriculum that would prepare me to design one of the main-stage shows during my senior year. I had the fantastic opportunity to design The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht. Because of the nature of the education I received at UVM, mentorships came not only from my area of focus but from every professor in the department. It was incredibly unique to have that much guidance from each of my collaborators.
While at UVM you were sought out by graduate schools. How did you decide where to attend?
Martin not only mentored me through the application process but also kept my goals in mind and taught specialized classes, developed assignments, and built in creative opportunities that led to a strong diverse portfolio upon graduation.
In the theatre world, auditions are a fact of life—even for a designer! There is a conference held by the University/Resident Theatre Alliance (URTA) where actors and designers meet with graduate schools. Students curate a display that is the best representation of their work and is arranged in a manner that reflects their design sensibilities. Your creative work has to speak for itself since representatives from each of the graduate programs select candidates they would like to interview without those students in the room. Fortunately, by the end of the day my “dance card” was full, as is the tradition for many UVM design students. Then came the back-to-back interviews in which I practiced the art of self-promotion and “the pitch,” followed by the ever important interrogation of what their program has to offer.
For my graduate education I wanted a school that was a part of a major theatre scene such as Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. I sought a school with actively working professors where I would have an opportunity to assist on outside professional work. I traded in the warm, supportive community of UVM for a full assistantship to grad school at the much more formal, intensive, industry-based education at the University of Maryland.
What advice would you offer someone considering attending UVM and majoring in Theatre?
Find joy in your liberal arts education. You may want to spend all your time on the acting course, but it is incredibly important to see the benefit in even your most dreaded requirement. Theatre history came alive for me by taking anthropology, while film classes taught me another storytelling method alongside theatrical script analysis.
UVM is not a theatre conservatory—think about how that sets you apart as a performer or designer. Success in this industry is dependent on the ability to collaborate and connect with folks whose brains might work in opposite ways from yours.
How was your experience of coming back to teach “Fundamentals of Costuming” this fall at UVM along with designing costumes for two productions?
I was truly honored to have the opportunity to return home to UVM. I will admit it was a bit strange at first to be standing up at the front of the classroom! What I remember most about my UVM education, beyond the subject matter, were the following lessons: to take time to celebrate each moment of growth and success, to give honest constructive criticism of your own work, and to be self-aware of the areas that need improvement. I approached this semester with the goal to teach those lessons. It was an absolute pleasure to see the students’ growth and bravery to push themselves out of their comfort zones to learn to draw and see like a designer.
As for the production work, it was so meaningful to have another chance to collaborate with lighting designer Associate Professor John Forbes and set designer Professor Jeff Modereger—this time as a colleague rather than as a student. Marat/Sade was an incredibly ambitious and rule breaking production. Gregory Ramos pushed each element and idea away from the comfort zone. As a designer, this piece was a personal challenge. I found myself looking down at a costume sketch and forcing myself to move away from the safe, polite choices. This play was to its core the opposite of that. It needed to rub yourself raw and allow the text to frustrate you. This play incites revolution, not applause, and my designs needed to tell that story.
Tell us about your future plans for 2016.
I will be returning to Burlington in March as costume designer for Vermont Stage’s production of Dancing Lessons. This opportunity came directly from the collaboration with Cristina Alicea, Artistic Director of Vermont Stage, on UVM’s production of The 39 Steps. In this business it is about finding the people you want to work with, and UVM granted me a chance do so!
In addition, I will be freelancing in the NYC area as a costume designer. I am at the wonderful stage in my career where at any time I can get a phone call to be a part of a Broadway design team, asked to design an off-off Broadway show, or even to design a giant ride on a camel puppet for a puppeteer in the Lower East Side. Check in with me in a few months!
To see more of Kate’s work, visit her webpage: www.katefulop.com.