Blair Gulledge, Costume Shop Manager
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am originally from Mint Hill, NC, outside of Charlotte. I have a B.A. in Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College and a M.F.A. in Costume Design from University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
How long have you been involved in theatre?
I have been involved in theatre at some level since I was a child. Starting with “acting” – I put that in quotes because it was a loose term to use for my performance. Eventually, I learned there were more opportunities in theatre better suited to my skills. I remember finally being able to read the movie credits and seeing “Costume Designer” … I thought, “That’s a job?! I want to do that!” Costumes fit with my family history of textile and craft production, language arts, and fine art.
What was your experience with theatre as an adult?
My adult theatre experience began while attending Warren Wilson College. My undergrad is a work and service college, meaning you worked for 15 hours a week to cover your room and board. My first job was cleaning the science building… blech!
I then worked in the theatre for three years, starting off as an assistant to the director, acting in a few shows, and then my ultimate goal – the costume shop. I worked under a wonderful woman named Beverly Ohler who was born in Manhattan and at 19, she was the professional renderer for the French lines in the custom department at Bergdorf Goodman’s. She told me wonderful stories of her experiences while making it a nurturing environment to learn. I also continued my Fine Arts studies which fostered my interest in theatre.
What was your previous experience, before coming to Hartford Stage?
Before coming to Hartford Stage, I was the resident Costume Design Assistant for seven years at The Alley Theatre in Houston, TX. During my tenure, I facilitated design on over 25 shows, and designed seven. If I didn’t design the summer show there, I worked at various venues such as The Goodspeed, Chautaqua Opera, and The Santa Fe Opera.
How long have you been working at Hartford Stage and what does your job as Costume Shop Manager consist of?
I have been at the Hartford Stage since late August of this Season. The most important part of my job is facilitating communication regarding costume design. This starts with reading and dissecting the chosen scripts, identifying budgetary needs and how the show will be constructed, then working with the designer to implement their design as well as working with the actors to ensure their needs are met. It is important that I implement the design with the best interests of Hartford Stage in mind.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?
I love to see a successful design on stage; one that functions well, in addition to supporting the story and actors. I love to help identify small details that support the actor in finding the character. I like to identify ways to make the costume shop run smoothly and create an open and supportive working environment.
Conversely, it is most frustrating to put long hours into a project that doesn’t seem to work no matter what you do. It is hard when external forces test the work environment I try to create. I do not like to see my employees struggle unnecessarily.
How did you become a costume shop manager?
My previous position as a Costume Design Assistant at The Alley Theatre shared similar responsibilities of the Costume Shop Manager. As the Resident Design Assistant at a large theatre we functioned as project managers, facilitating all aspects of each show. I wanted a chance to grow and managing a shop was the next logical step for me. The Alley Theatre has had a long relationship with Hartford Stage. I was aware of the reputation and wanted to be a part of the company. When the position became available I jumped at the chance.
What was one of your greatest achievements in your field?
My greatest achievements are building and maintaining strong relationships with the designers I have worked with. Sounds a little vague, but it is hard to maintain and create multiple relationships across the field. I can proudly say that I have worked well with every designer I have worked with, and believe the quality of each show was heightened because of that.
Are there any other aspects of theatre you’d like to be more involved with?
In addition to working in the costume shop at The Goodspeed, I also overhired in the props department there. I loved doing something different, along with reiterating that I needed to work out because props are heavier than costumes! I have also worked in costume crafts at Santa Fe opera, NC Shakespeare Festival, The Alley Theatre and The Chautaqua Opera. And then there was the acting... I may or may not have been in a production of Hair in college…
What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to go to art museums, draw and read. I also enjoy being outside – hiking or canoeing. I have been growing succulents successfully for a few years. I threw out two boxes of belongings so that they would fit in my car on the way to Hartford from Houston. I love animals and would like to be trained in animal rescue in disaster situations. I also like to find and eat cheese.
I was in the Girl Scouts for 10 years and earned my Girl Scout Gold award.
I saved two dogs from a burning house – ironically they were Dalmatians.
It is not possible for me to live happily without a pet. I have had an animal companion in one way or another since birth.
The house in which The Color Purple was filmed was a Gulledge family home when it was newly built.