Theater Grads Find Leading Roles, But Not Always on the Stage

Posted: June 28, 2010 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: June 25, 2010 at 12:06 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Kate Taylor with one of her handbag designs she calls "The Sophisticate." Mason costume design classes inspired her to work with fabric. Photo courtesy of Kate Taylor

Dedicated to preparing students for a wide range of careers in the performing arts, Mason’s Department of Theater stresses the importance of gaining experience both in and out of the classroom and on and off the stage.

With the plethora of learning opportunities available to nearly 100 students, coupled with never-ending faculty support, it’s not surprising that the theater program’s graduates thrive on many different pathways.

Following in the footsteps of several family members who graduated from Mason, Kate Taylor, BA Theater ’04, knew instantly that the university’s theater department would provide a great outlet to express her creativity.

“My love for acting began in high school, but when I came to Mason and enrolled in the theater program and was exposed to so many areas of the field, including costume design, screenwriting, makeup and production, my interests started to shift gears,” says Taylor. “It wasn’t until my senior year that I developed a love for costume design and printing my own fabrics.”

She credits the courses she took in costume construction taught by Howard Kurtz, associate professor of theater, and printmaking taught by Susan Goldman, adjunct professor in the School of Art, with sparking her interest in fashion design. These classes encouraged her to take up sewing again and taught her how to create her own designs and apply them to fabric.

Taylor put these skills to use during her last year at Mason when she began designing her own book bags. When she moved to Berlin, Germany, four years after graduating summa cum laude, her interest in making handbags took off.

She creates handbags in a variety of styles, shapes, colors and fabrics, and she still consults the workbook she created in Kurtz’s class that details all the various kinds of seams and finishing techniques.

When she moves to Amsterdam next month, she hopes to launch her Darley handbag line all over the world and eventually expand to offer clothes and other products.

Karin Craven discovered her calling as a wig maker after working on Mason theater productions. Now she splits her time between two theater companies. Photo courtesy of Karin Craven

Back in the United States, another theater alum, Karin Craven, BA Theater ’05, splits her time between Atlanta, Ga., and Cedar City, Utah.

As a Mason student with a variety of interests, her college career got off to a great start when she took the course Drama, Stage and Society, taught by Rick Davis, artistic director of Mason’s Center for the Arts and Theater of the First Amendment.

It wasn’t until she worked on costumes and makeup for the theater program’s “Look Homeward Angel” production that she discovered her true calling – making wigs.

Shortly after Craven graduated from Mason, Kurtz introduced her to wig masters on the Broadway productions of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Hairspray” in New York City. She also got a chance to visit the studio of wigmaker Bob Kelly, who has been making wigs for “Saturday Night Live” since 1976.

“After the trip to New York City, I felt very overwhelmed and wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it in this industry,” says Craven. “But drawing from the solid foundation I created at Mason, I realized that this was something at which I could excel. In addition, the support I have continued to receive from Howard has been invaluable. Without it I don’t think I would be where I am today.”

Craven later went on to receive a master’s degree in makeup and wig design and technology from the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

For the past several years, she has been working as the wig master at Alliance Theater in Atlanta and heads the wig department at the Utah Shakespearean Festival during the summer.

Taylor Coffman has been successful as an actor, writer and producer in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Taylor Coffman

On the West Coast, Taylor Coffman, BA Theater ’03, tries her hand at all the various aspects of theater, including acting, writing and producing. She credits the education she received at Mason with giving her the confidence to wear so many hats and achieve success as an artist.

“I came to Mason wanting to be an actor, but the theater program really stresses the importance of gaining knowledge about the entire field,” says Coffman. “In the long run, the program gave me a strong theatrical aesthetic and taught me to vary my interests so I would be prepared to handle all of the facets of the industry.”

Through the numerous acting and directing courses she took from theater professors such as Davis and Ed Gero, Coffman was actively involved in almost all of the theater program’s productions while she was at Mason.

As a sophomore, she landed her first professional acting role in “Lady from the Sea,” a play produced by Theater of the First Amendment, Mason’s professional theater company in-residence.

Soon after graduating magna cum laude from Mason, Coffman headed to sunny Los Angeles. She spent three years in late-night comedy on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and worked her way up to pulling comedy content for the show’s opening monologue and appearing on the show in comedy bits. Later, she began focusing on her own acting career goals in film, television and the stage.

In 2008, she co-founded the Mutineer Theatre Company, an organization dedicated to developing new works. Drawing on the skills she learned in Theater Professor Heather McDonald’s playwriting courses, Coffman recently completed the month-long run of “DITCH,” her first professionally produced play.

She is currently participating in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, where one of her short plays is in production.

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