SU Freshman Takes High Honors at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival
SALISBURY, MD---When Georgia Fried created outfits for her school plays in Hurlock MD, she may have been the best costume designer at North Dorchester High School.
Now a freshman at Salisbury University, she recently was named among the best collegiate costume designers in the U.S.
Fried recently placed second at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C. The event is considered one of the most prestigious in the nation for collegiate theatre.
With a win at the festival’s Region II competition at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in February, the Rhodesdale, MD, native was one of eight costume design students nationwide to earn a spot at the national event’s design, technology and management (DTM) competition, held at the Kennedy Center. There, she placed second in the nation.
At both, she entered costume designs she made for last fall’s SU Bobbi Biron Theatre Program production of the Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play Appropriate. Being selected as the student designer for that show was almost an award unto itself.
“They don’t usually let freshmen design,” she said. “It was a very rare thing. It was challenging.”
Often, juniors and seniors are called on to provide costume design ideas for SU productions. When none were available for Appropriate, however, its director, Music, Theatre and Dance Department Co-chair Robert Smith, turned to Fried.
It was not their first time working together — while in high school, Fried attended the Maryland Summer Center for the Arts at SU, which Smith directed. Her work caught his attention.
While Smith knew Fried had the talent to make the show’s costumes a success, she needed help bridging the gap between high school design — which was basically putting together wardrobe pieces — and the next level, which involves using costumes to tell a story.
To guide with the transition, she found a mentor in Max Levitt, then a lecturer in the Music, Theatre and Dance Department.
“He held my hand through the process — more like dragged me through this process,” she said with a laugh.
With his help, she learned to think about costuming not just as pieces of clothing stitched together, but as visual cues for the audience. For example, Appropriate features characters from diverse areas including New York, Portland and Georgia. Fried’s job was to make sure the actors’ costumes reflected those geographic differences.
Going even further, she considered the characters themselves.
“Rachel is a stay-at-home mom who has lived in New York all her life,” she said. “What does someone like that look like?”
That thought process has stayed with her since the production wrapped — sometimes leading to amusing consequences.
“I definitely psychoanalyze people’s clothes when I’m walking down the street now,” she said. “‘Do they know they look like that? Why did they pick them? Are they making a statement, or is that just what they chose to wear today?’”
In some instances for Appropriate, further study was required. One character, for example, had to walk onstage appearing as if he had just climbed out of a lake. Fried’s first instinct was there had to be a better way to portray that than having the actor wear wet clothing. After exhaustive online research, however, she concluded there was not — so the actor took a fully clothed shower backstage just before that scene in each performance.
In realizing her designs for the show, Fried combed through SU’s theatre wardrobe collection, but came up mostly empty. With a modest budget, she bought most of the clothes she needed — or the material to make them with — and appealed to the actors to help, as well. One wore his own suit (which was good, she said, “because suits are expensive”).
Fried has worked in costuming for other Bobbi Biron Theatre productions since then, serving as pattern cutter/draper for last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and associate costume designer, under Associate Professor Leslie Yarmo, for this semester’s Hairspray — The Musical. For the latter, highlights included fabric shopping with Yarmo in New York, assisting with costume construction and developing the wardrobe for the character Motormouth Maybelle.
It was her experience with Appropriate, however, that prepared her for the national Kennedy Center event. At the regional level, workshops were presented at what she considered a “beginner, Theatre 101” level, making them accessible to all participants. In Washington, where only the winners of the regional competitions were invited, activities were more “thought providing and challenging, grad school level.” Workshop leaders asked questions like, “What are the needs of the play?” “What does the play mean?” and “What are the characters’ perspectives?” — the same types of inquires she considered for her designs.
In addition to her impressive finish in the DTM competition, she earned a summer fellowship with the Contemporary American Theatre Festival at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV—the only DTM participant to do so.
At the regional level, her award was her entry into the national festival, with all expenses paid. Beyond the certificates and accolades, however, her experience at SU so far has given her an even bigger prize:
“I know now what design in theatre really is and what it’s all about,” she said. “It’s not what I thought at all.”
And that’s a good thing.