A behind-the-scenes glance at our alumni
Interviewed by Allen Lee Hughes
This month: Tricia Barsamian ‘07
What projects have excited you that you have recently worked on?
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to design KPOP, a collaboration with Woodshed Collective, Ma-Yi Theatre Company and Ars Nova. KPOP was unique in its immersive nature and subject material (it explored various questions surrounding celebrity, Asian-American identity, cultural differences between Korean and American society and pop music/culture).
What advice can you give about working on an immersive project?
Working on an immersive project allows you to flex all of your traditional design skills, but also often forces you to think in a different headspace, as the relationship between an actor and an audience member changes when one shifts from a traditional proscenium set-up to an immersive setting. With the audience being physically enveloped in the world of the work, there is little forgiveness when it comes to details and specificity within the clothes. As we went deeper into the design process, KPOP was actually still being written, and script changes came every day. As a result, my team and I had to quickly learn how to swiftly adapt to said changes under a limited budget and resources. Being flexible and learning to not be precious about my design decisions became a vital skill in mounting this production.
You graduated in 2007 and your career has been very productive. What secrets, principles, talents, assistance, and support do you feel have made you so successful?
From a logistical standpoint, organization is key. I write everything down and keep a very detailed calendar. From a design standpoint, although this next point sounds obvious, being an active listener and participant is a vital part of the creative process, whether it is with your actors, directors, fellow designers or assistants. I’ve learned that listening is one of the most important skills in collaborating, as truly being able to listen translates to seeing past just what people say, and learning to interpret exactly what it is that they mean. Above all, I’ve learned that one must rely heavily on instincts. When I look back on any missteps in my career—all of which have been opportunities to learn and grow—I can usually trace it back to a decision I made in which I did not trust my own instincts.
Have you worked with any NYU alumni or current students? How did that work out?
The graduate program at NYU was one of the best venues for meeting future co-workers and collaborators. I have been shaped by so many of my peers in grad school—so much so that I always find myself accessing the NYU database and former classmates when looking to forward recommendations or when finding others to work with. I have also had the wonderful opportunity to work with alumni of the NYU Tisch undergraduate design program on a few projects. One of the joys of the past few years for me has been watching these younger designers grow as artists and collaborators as they discover themselves during these formative years of their career.
Do you have an anecdote that you think current students and faculty would find amusing or learn from?
Truthfully, I can’t think of an anecdote off the top of my head, but I find myself saying, “You should go a cup size bigger, a band size smaller and can I please raise your straps?” a few times a week.
When did you get interested in theater and how?
I started out studying fashion design for a brief period at FIT. However, I found myself craving a more collaborative, narrative career—costume design seemed like a natural extension of my skills as a fashion designer and collaborator—and I’ve never looked back! That being said, fashion has always been a major influence in my work, as I find it so inherently tied to current events and character. While I’ve never performed onstage in my life, I grew up in the suburbs of NYC and saw a decent number of Broadway shows growing up. Seeing bands and live music shows played a big part in my formative years. I think all of these things blended together somehow.
As you design and meet the challenges of being a freelance artist, are there any voices that you particularly hear from the aggregation of voices?
So many voices have guided my decisions as an artist throughout the years, both from school and out in the professional world. While at NYU, I remember Christopher Young always saying something along the lines of “Be memorable for something.” I know I’ve distilled his quote greatly, but the essence of what he taught me has stuck with me as I continue to shape my identity as a freelance artist. Christopher instilled in me the importance of finding your own voice and point of view. I continue to learn to trust my own voice in the aggregation of voices. There is no handbook for this job, and I’m constantly reminded that you have to learn to trust your own instincts and make decisions based on this. At the end of the day, everyone does this job differently and brings something else to the table—and you just have to trust that this is okay.
Are there any challenges and/or rewards that you feel costume designers have that are different ones that other designers may have?
First and foremost, a costume designer’s intense relationship with the actor is something that is unique to the costume design process, as costume design is inherently people-based. The relationship that we build with the actors, from the minute they step into the fitting room until the opening night performance, is one that is of vital importance in the collaborative process. In addition to informing our work, I find that the relationship with the performer is one of the great joys of my profession. On the logistical side of things, I have found one of the primary challenges in being costume designer has been the financial aspect. Many people assume a deep understanding of clothes since we all wear them—but I’ve found that this can sometimes negatively impact our budgets and the perception of how much work actually needs to go into mounting a show.
You have an hour to yourself, what do you do?
Take a yoga class.
What was your favorite snack(s) that your assistant brought to you during tech
Coffee, popcorn, pineapple, dark chocolate. We snack a lot.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Life is short, try to be as happy as possible! Surround yourself with people and things that you love.