A behind-the-scenes glance at our alumni
Interviewed by Allen Lee Hughes. This month: Marie Anne Chiment
What are you currently doing in your life and career that you are proud of?
I am very proud to be designing three very different projects coming up in 2017. First of all I will be designing costumes for two world premieres; Reggie Hoops and The Brownings. Both new plays will open in Philadelphia. While designing these plays I am also designing over 70 costumes for the Baroque opera Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau which is a co-production between Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Le Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles in Paris. Designing three such different works is an artistic challenge and a real joy!
You graduated in1981 and your career has been very productive. What secrets, principles, talents, assistance, and support do you feel have made you so successful?
It starts with family. I have a very supportive “biological” family. Although no one in my family was ever involved with theater, my grandmother loved the opera and would sing opera to me whenever I visited her throughout my childhood. I am sure this is where I got my love of the world of opera. Theater and opera have provided me with a wonderful and wildly diverse “chosen” family! While working in theater and opera I met my best friends and my beloved husband. Both of my families have provided me with the support necessary to survive and thrive in the arts.
How are you currently involved with the department? Are there any ways that you would like to be more involved?
In addition to my freelance work, I am now in my 11th year as a professor of theatrical design at Temple University in Philadelphia. I think it would be interesting to explore ways to bring design students from NYU and Temple together to work on projects in both cities, perhaps to explore cross-pollination of theatrical design in two of the most theater-centric cities in America.
Have you worked with any NYU alumni or current students? How did that work out?
Many years ago I attended an NYU Design show and was impressed with the work of a young scenic designer named Randall Parsons. I was about to design the sets and costumes for several operas and needed a talented and experienced assistant. I hired Randy as the “Assistant Scenic Designer” for one show and that led to more and more shows down the road. Eventually, it only made sense to promote him to “Associate Scenic Designer”. While Randy is a busy and talented scenic designer in his own right, I am always pleased when he has time in his schedule to work with me on a project.
What moment(s) of your career are you most proud of?
I would have to say that using my talents as a designer to bring new works to life on the stage is what makes me very proud. I designed the scenery and costumes for the first Sci-Fi opera, Under The Double Moon, for the Opera Theater of St. Louis and being given the chance to create an entire world unlike any other was an amazing artistic challenge. And then designing the scenery and costumes for the first lesbian opera was a proud moment in my life. Bringing the love story, Patience & Sarah, to life on the stage at Lincoln Center was a thrill artistically and politically.
When did you get interested in theater and how?
I always loved to make up my own worlds out of whatever was around. I was an “Army brat” and my family moved about once a year. I remember how much fun it was to use all the left over moving boxes to make scenery! And my mother gave me an old army footlocker to hold all of my rag-tag costumes. My brothers and sisters and I would gather the neighborhood kids to come over to our little backyard and we would make up plays to perform for each other. It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I found out that there was an actual JOB of being a theatrical designer! I was so happy to find out that I could use my love of music, art, dance and performance to make a living!
What or who were your influences?
Costume Designer Deborah Dryden was my first theatrical design teacher. Not only is she incredibly talented but she is one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. She inspired me to continue with theatrical design. Opera director and choreographer Rhoda Levine taught me how to use the human body when creating a new world onstage. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of the directors and playwrights and composers who have entrusted me to bring their productions to “visual life” onstage.
Are there any challenges and/or rewards that you feel costume designers have that are different ones that other designers may have?
The answer is simple: PERFORMERS. Costume Designers have to deal with living, breathing “performers” whether that performer is an opera diva or a circus elephant. Living organisms are, by nature, unpredictable. They can get sick, angry, injured or pregnant during the course of a rehearsal process or the run of a show. They are often insecure and may take out their frustrations on the costume or the costume designer. For this reason, a successful costume designer needs to not only be good at designing gorgeous, appropriate-to-the character costumes but must also be prepared to play the part of a politician, a psychologist, a therapist, a cheer-leader, a ring-master, as well as an advocate for both the performer and the audience. As someone who designs scenery and costumes, I can say that being responsible for all of the “performers-in-costume” is definitely a more “hands on” and demanding job.
What are some of your other interests in life?
I love to paint portraits in all mediums! I love to read and play the piano and travel all over the world with my husband and my friends.
What was your favorite snack that your assistant brought to you during tech?
No snacks. I want a neck massage!