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Meet Renowned Costume Designer Jess Goldstein

Date: Apr 29, 2015


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On May 1, TDF will host its annual Irene Sharaff Awards, which honor the best and brightest in theatrical costume design. This year's honorees include the renowned Jess Goldstein, who will receive the Robert L. B. Tobin Award for Sustained Excellence in Theatrical Design. Recently, Ellen Lampert-Greaux interviewed Goldstein for an extensive profile in Live Design. I'm delighted to reprint the introduction to that article here, and I encourage you to read the rest at Live Design's website. Jess Goldstein, who is currently represented on Broadway with On the Town, is an exemplary artist, and I'm certain you'll enjoy learning more about his life and work. -- Mark Blankenship, TDF Stages Editor.


In my mind's eye, I can picture Jess Goldstein as a young designer in the costume shop at the Williamstown Theatre Festival circa summer 1980. I was the publicity director at this summer festival in Massachusetts, and he was fitting clothes on such actors as Christopher Reeve, Blythe Danner, Edward Herrmann, and Richard Chamberlain, pins in his mouth, tape measure around his neck.

When Goldstein was announced as the winner of the 2015 TDF Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award For Costume Design, I had to blink a second or two. Had 35 years really gone by, since we were both at Williamstown? In chatting with the designer, we retraced some of the steps along his illustrious career path over the past three decades.

"I was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey," Goldstein recalls. "I started seeing Broadway shows as a kid, all those wonderful musicals in the '60s." Whistling his favorite tunes, he headed off to be an art major at Boston University. "I was good at drawing and thought about going into commercial art. Then I met some students majoring in theatre design and liked the idea that you could study that in college. It gave it legitimacy and seemed like a more viable career. I really found myself."

Goldstein spent many summers at theatre festivals as he developed his design skills, from an apprentice in Ogunquit, Maine, to assistant designer at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. "I also worked in some costume shops in New York and felt I had enough experience by then for graduate school and went to the Yale School of Drama. I was very comfortable doing costume design and made great professional connections at Yale. It was a perfect fit."


In his first year out of Yale, in the fall of 1978, Goldstein was recommended by set designer and Yale colleague David Gropman to design the original New York production of Buried Child. "That was my first New York credit at Theatre For A New City," he notes. "The show was well reviewed, won the Pulitzer and some Obies, and moved to a commercial production at the Lortel, then the Theatre de Lys, on Christopher Street—my first hit!"

Also doing a lot of regional theatre at the time, Goldstein designed the Charles Strouse musical, Charlie And Algernon, for The Folger Theatre Group in Washington, DC in 1979. It was performed at The Terrace, the smallest theatre at the Kennedy Center. The good reviews for this show eventually carried it to the Helen Hayes Theatre in New York, and Goldstein had his first Broadway credit by September 1980.

Also in 1979 in Washington, he designed another original musical, Tintypes, at the Arena Stage. This also moved to New York, first to the theatre at St. Peter's Church at CitiCorp Center, then to the John Golden Theatre on Broadway that October. "So by 1980, just two years after Yale, I had two Broadway shows," notes Goldstein, who still does a mix of Broadway and regional theatre. "I have gotten away without being too typed and design a lot of new, as well as classical, plays, a healthy mix of period and contemporary."

 In 1979, Goldstein did his first summer in Williamstown, then run by Nikos Psacharopoulos, and as the designer recalls, "Nikos took a shining to me, and I was young enough and crazy enough to often take on three of their main stage productions each season and do them in two weeks each, with big stars. I learned so much, how to prioritize and how to get the job done with not too much money and a staff of mostly kids. I worked there throughout the 1980s, but after Nikos passed away, I chose to not work there and wanted to take more time for myself in the summers."

To continue reading this article at Live Design, go here. (Free registration required.)

Top Photo: A scene from Lincoln Center Theater's 2004 revival of The Rivals, features Tony Award-winning costumes by Goldstein. Photo by Joan Marcus.