PORTFOLIOS FOR ALL YOUR JOBS: Most advice on portfolios for costumers tends to center on straight design portfolios. Yet there are relatively few design jobs out there that consist solely of costume design. My own fairly typical university position at UAF is supposed to consist of equal parts of teaching, research, and public service in my field. In other words, for my job I must, in addition to costume design all shows, teach classes in costume design, costume history, stage makeup and theatre history, do research and publications in my field, do related public services like curate exhibits of costumes for museums, advise local schools about costumes and makeup for shows, teach every sort of cutting and construction in the costume shop, and do periodic displays, posters, and photos for publicity. For me to go to an interview with only a design portfolio would be to leave out more than two-thirds of my work.
- poster design
- costume and textile crafts
- dyeing and painting
- flat patterning
- school projects
- school grades & awards
- museum work (cataloging)
- historical reproductions
- jewelry and sculpture
- work with dolls
- work in other areas of theatre
- misc. awards
- makeup design
- teaching experience
- published work
So when I was much younger, and beginning my portfolio, I included cover designs for a Society for Creative Anachronism `zine I drew, many photos of my hats and other costume crafts I built for the college costume shop, photos of some historical reproduction fans I made as a gift, Xeroxes of museum cataloging I’d done as a college project, awards certificates for local costume and sewing contests I’d won with photos of the winning costumes, my transcripts, letters of reference, a few designs, and every newspaper photo or mention of my contest wins, or review of my costumes in shows that I could get. It wasn’t until much later that I could divide up into more than one portfolio, and later still before I could move on and take most of this early stuff out.
TALKING TO DIRECTORS: It is above all, necessary to demonstrate how you communicate with the director and other designers. If your design portfolio shows only photos without renderings, they will wonder “Will I be given any idea how the costumes look before first dress?” If you include renderings but no photos, they will wonder “Yes, but do they really look this good on stage?” If all the renderings and photos match each other too closely, they will probably guess you did the renderings after you made the costumes. If your renderings look like the work of God, and you have no preliminary sketches, they will wonder “Won’t she get upset if we reject a design?” Fact is directors want evidence in the design portfolio that you are flexible, that they will get early information like research and sketches from you, that they’ll see renderings before you make the costumes, and that the costumes look good. This is why it is important to save as much information as possible on each show.
BUILDING PORTFOLIOS: The main two keys to building good portfolios are simple: collect information (renderings, sketches, swatches, photos, etc.) on everything you do, and edit and remount the new information you have every six to twelve months. Ultimately the thing that will “sell” your design portfolio is the design, or other work in it. The display is just a vehicle for showing your work. This is why collecting information on your work is the most important part of the process. Working on updating every six months is just a way to make sure you (a.) don’t let the work pile up, and (b.) still can get access to your work for photos, swatches, etc. if you find you forgot to gather something important.
RECORDING THE HISTORY OF SHOWS: If you update your portfolio regularly, you also will know what renderings, photos, sketches, and swatches you don’t need. You can perform a service to your theatre, and save yourself storage space, by putting all unnecessary information into a folder for each show and donating it to the theatre archives, local library, or theatre museum. You will help to preserve the history of your theatre, provide future scholars with reference material, and assure your own (minor) immortality by doing so. This also allows you to park your car inside your garage.
ONE IDEA AT A TIME: When you are putting in a display of your work on a show, try to stick to showing one thing about the show that best illustrates your best work in it. Don’t try to get in the whole show, just this one best “idea” that made the show different from your other work. The rest you can donate to the library. For example, in my portfolio, Woyzeck only shows close-ups of its Expressionistic makeup and fabric painting, The Eagle’s Gift shows the spirit costumes made with recycled garbage, Cabaret has swatches of the show fabric next to the Otto Dix picture from which I drew the color scheme, and a few photos showing the color scheme on stage,
LET YOUR PERSONALITY SHOW THROUGH: Don’t try to fade into the woodwork however, this is costume design, not public accounting, people do not expect you to be boring and faceless. Simple does not translate as boring. As a student many years ago I went to the URTA National Unified Auditions and was amazed. Out of dozens of design students looking for jobs, I appeared to be the only one not wearing black or brown, and not carrying one of those identical ugly black vinyl zippered portfolios. I was later told by the schools that I was the only one who didn’t send a white or beige resume. While I would like to think that my natural talent, great slides, and wonderful presentation is what got me twice as many interviews as the others, I’m inclined to think that the giant marbled portfolio, hot pink resumes, 3-D displays of crafts and sewing, and my cream white pantsuit, also made the impression that I was a designer and not a frightened rabbit. Make your portfolio look like who you are. And when you become somebody else, (and you will eventually,) change it.
RESUMES: What can I say about this? Too much has been said already, lots of “don’ts” that have more to do with how to get jobs in banks than in theatre. Lots of different confusing formats from “skills resumes” to straightforward chronological ones. Most of what you need to do should be obvious: list relevant work you’ve done, both paid and volunteer. List in a short manner when, where, and what you did. List everything when you’re young, dump older information when you get too many things to list. If you have a lot of work in several distinct categories, divide the information into headings to make it easier on the reader. Don’t advertise inefficiency with typos and bad Xeroxing.
PERSONALITY IN IMPERSONAL DOCUMENTS: I do, however, believe one thing about resumes very strongly. You need to use a resume to show people who you are professionally, not to hide who you are. If you are using your resume to hide who you think you are, you have too many insecurities, and need a new therapist not a new job. You need to let the person you are show in some way; in particular you need to be memorable without being offensive to the kind of people you would like to work with.
HOW I DO IT: What I do is this: I print the resume at the end of this chapter on my favorite color of Xerox paper, which happens to be the retina- challenging “Pulsar Pink.” I do not recommend hot pink resumes. I do recommend printing your resume on your favorite color of paper, even if that happens to be white. It will give people a clue about who you are, which is what they are really looking to find out. The sort of director who looks at a hot pink resume and thinks “this woman is too weird for me”, will probably not direct the kind of shows I like to design. It’s OK if I give her a clue not to hire me. On the other hand, it will interest the kind of loony directors I enjoy working with (“Hey, this woman looks weird enough for me!”). This is why I say you need to pick your favorite color. If you are a “Beige Marble” Xerox paper person, and you do “Pulsar Pink” because I do it, you will attract exactly the wrong sort of prospective employers. It’s like your Mom says on your first date: “Just be yourself.”
HINTS BETWEEN THE LINES: Please read the text of the resume carefully and check the notes. I include and exclude many small things to let the reader get clues about my interests, background, and professional beliefs. In an interview process it is unlikely in the extreme that the interviewers will notice all these minor clues, but by putting in many, I hope to have some noticed, and to create a subtle picture of who I am. It is therefore an advantage to seriously think about minor matters like the order in which one lists one’s accomplishments, how one refers to particular jobs, and how much “padding” or formality one uses. I often read resumes that obviously are trying to gild everything with grandeur; these things seem to announce an insecure pomposity that annoys rather than attracts. On the opposite end are self-consciously cute resumes. As a new graduate in 1981 I, myself, did one of these. They positively shout one’s inexperience from the treetops, and I got disappointingly few job offers from that resume.
RESUME FORMAT: This also holds true for the arrangement and content of this resume. I am, and have been for some time, bending towards the academic, writing and theoretical portions of costume design. When I look for jobs, I look for academic jobs. If your inclination is not in this area, it would be monumentally stupid to follow the format of this resume. My resume is only an example of how a simple category format resume can be used as an indicator of an individual’s personality and interests. You can take a category format resume, and by altering the titles and arrangement of the categories show a totally different professional background and personality. There are also other formats which may prove more comfortable, such as chronological, or skills based resumes. You can see assortments of formats in any ordinary how-to-write-a-resume book. The important thing to see is how much a resume can be made to reflect it’s owner, and how. Apply this information to writing one that reflects your interests and abilities, in the format that suits you best.
A CAUTION TO STUDENTS: The following resume is also far too lengthy and dense for somebody who is either just starting out or who is applying for a job outside academia. The way academic job searches are conducted includes a preliminary screening of applications on a system of points. This system assigns points for each year of teaching, each additional area of related expertise, each year of working in professional theatre, etc. As a consequence, lengthy, detailed resumes tend to “rack up” more points than one page resumes, and can put applicants into the interview stage. Detailed resumes are therefore an advantage in applying for university jobs. However, nearly every other costume employment does not use this point system. In those positions, interviewers, by and large, prefer one page resumes, and would be positively irritated at one as long and detailed as mine. When applying for non-academic positions I do a one-page version that only includes information I think will be of interest to that specific employer.
EMPLOYER SPECIFIC RESUMES: If you keep a long version of your resume on disc, with little or nothing left out, you can copy the file and then cut it to length to suit the specifics of the job for which you are applying. Customizing the experiences you list to the requirements of the job can make it easier for the interviewer to figure out if you have the right qualifications, and it eliminates unnecessary detail that can distract the reader. With word processors this is now so incredibly easy you can afford to do this every time you make an application.
METAMORPHOSES: For both portfolios and resumes you need to ask yourself periodically “Who am I, and what do I want to do with my life?” Granola-headed as this sounds, it is important. As a student and young graduate I defined myself as a costume crafts worker and had a heavily tech portfolio and (after the disastrous “cute” resume) low-key brown utilitarian resume. I switched from my paper bag brown chronological resume to a hot pink category one after developing my self confidence as a designer in grad school. I started working on making teaching portfolios shortly after I realized I was mutating from a designer into a teacher. As I progressed from teacher to academic researcher I added my academic writing portfolio. Recently I have begun to paint and do creative writing (including plays), and I can almost feel another metamorphosis coming on. It’s been a decade [in 1995] of hot pink paper, and I’m getting much weirder than hot pink by the minute. I’m not exactly sure what it will be next (any more than I’m sure who I will be personally and professionally in a year’s time), but I do know, when the change becomes clear, there will be a way to reflect it in those impersonal documents used in hiring. Will I put my resume on a color Xerox of garbage? Will I consolidate my various portfolios into a holistic collage of my work? Will I switch to video? The territory of possibilities is endless, for me or for anyone, and it is a territory that is fun to explore.