Michigan State University Department of Theatre MFA Design candidates, Grace Foiles and Zech Saenz, were awarded regional honors in the field of costume design from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) and Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF). The competitions aim to assess and award exceptional theatre design work by students.
The Department of Theatre was slated to produce Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood by Adam Szymkowicz in Spring 2020. Saenz’s costume designs were complete, rehearsals had begun, and build was just one week away when the COVID-19 pandemic halted production.
“At first, there were plans to move the production to the fall, but when that couldn’t happen, it was such a bummer for everyone involved,” Saenz said. “Winning these awards really validates the work and provides me a happy closure to this project.”
Winning these awards really validates the work and provides me a happy closure to this project.Zech Saenz, MFA Design candidate
As graduate students, Saenz and Foiles were allowed access to the department’s costume and scene shops during the university’s reduced onsite work during the pandemic. With that access, Saenz was able to build one of the doublets he had designed and rendered. Photos from that process were included in his award-winning presentations.
For his work, Saenz was awarded both the KCACTF National Award for Design Excellence in Costume Design and the USITT Midwest Regional Section Digital Competition for Costume Design.
Foiles, a third-year MFA Design candidate, also won the USITT Midwest Regional Section Digital Design Competition for Costume Design for their work on Distance Series.
Distance Series is a devised pair of “wearable sculptures with the intention of keeping people at least six feet away from their wearer, in response to calls for social-distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Foiles started with 30 sketches and selected three to become fully realized pieces, using unconventional and reclaimed materials, such as plastic sheeting recycled from lumber packaging.
For Foiles, their project provided an outlet for the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty experienced by living through a pandemic. “This project became a place for me to channel all my existential dread into art, theatre, and camp.”
Adjudicator Rasean Davonte Johnson applauded Foiles ability to capture this moment in time via the artistry of costume design, saying the series is “a great perception of the world we live in now where morbidity, absurdity, and reality collide.”
This project became a place for me to channel all my existential dread into art, theatre, and camp.Grace Foiles, MFA Design candidate
As winners of the USITT competition, Foiles and Saenz will receive complementary registration to attend the USITT National Conference, which will be held virtually in March. Saenz’s design also will advance to the KCACTF National Festival competition, scheduled for April 2021.
Head of Design and MFA Design Program Director Karen Kangas Preston applauds these competitions as a way for students to showcase their designs to a broader community. “Our work as theatre artists relies on audience and the necessary nationwide shutdown has directly limited that opportunity,” she said. “I’m pleased that others see the immense talent our students have and recognize the excellent work that is coming out of Michigan State.”
Assistant Professor of Scene Design, Ranae Selmeyer, agrees saying this type of recognition is critical to the foundation of career success for students. “The Department of Theatre faculty and staff are so proud of the work Zech and Grace are doing here at Michigan State. Awards from top national competitions help to prepare our talented students to emerge as a new generation of theatre design leaders.”