Illinois State University alumna Lauren Roark ’11 will return to Bloomington-Normal this summer as costume designer for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival (ISF).

Festival Artistic Director Kevin Rich recently spoke to Roark about her career as a costume designer and asked her to give advice to students who are considering a career in theatre. She also shared some tips on what to look for in this summer’s production of Hamlet at ISF.

What has your journey as a costume designer been since you left ISU?

Since graduating from Illinois State, I have been working consistently as a costume designer with my career spanning four continents.

Polonius Costume designed by Lauren Roark '11

Polonius costume designed by Lauren Roark ’11.

I graduated from ISU in August 2011 after finishing a study abroad program in Florence, Italy. While in Italy, I studied fresco restoration, restoring 15th and 16th century murals in various churches across Tuscany.

In the fall of 2011, I began graduate school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. During my time in Kansas City, I was given numerous opportunities to design, work internationally, and intern at one of the top regional theatres in the country. I was also able to mentor undergraduate students in the costume shop and serve as a graduate teaching assistant for several courses.

A highlight of my time in grad school was traveling to Hong Kong to oversee the construction of menswear for The School for Scandal, produced at the Riverside Theatre in the Park. The following summer, I traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to work as the costume shop manager for FIO Americas, a traveling repertory opera company. In my final year of grad school, I interned at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., one of the top regional theatres in the country, where I studied with a master tailor and worked on their production of Mother Courage and Her Children, starring Kathleen Turner. I received my M.F.A. in costume design and technology in 2014.

After graduate school, I moved to Chicago to begin my freelance design career. I worked with many theatres in Chicago, including Raven Theatre and Artistic Home Ensemble. In January 2015, I began working at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, serving as its costume shop manager, costume designer, and teaching all costume-related courses, while continuing my freelance career.

This year, I designed a new work, Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing, which opened at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis last month and will continue on to the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park this week.  

What’s next for you after ISF this summer?

I have a Shakespeare-filled summer! After ISF, I design a new work, Queen Margaret, for Muse of Fire in Evanston, and then I head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival to serve as the assistant costume designer for Murder for Two. Then in the fall, I begin my first semester at Beloit College as its costume shop manager, lecturer, and costume designer.

What should we look for in your beautiful design for Hamlet this summer?

Look out for modern fashion and aesthetic mixed with Elizabethan styles and silhouettes—think skinny jeans paired with doublets, and laser cut leather used in Elizabethan gowns. Also, look for the crackle pattern present in each of the characters and pay careful attention to when their “cracks” are revealed.

Ophelia costume designed by Lauren Roark '11

Ophelia costume designed by Lauren Roark ’11.

What advice do you have for students?

The best advice I can give to current students is to say YES to everything. Take all opportunities that arise, because you never know where you will find your true passion.

My time at Illinois State was so important because I was able to try so many things, from hanging lights, to building sets, and creating beautiful costumes. I was able to try it all, and truly know that there was nothing else I would rather do.

The other piece of advice I have for current students is not to shy away from risks. Don’t be afraid to fail. It is so much more important to take a big risk, make a statement, and create something new and unique, as opposed to playing it safe.