Laura Crow wears many hats as a professor of costume design in the Department of Dramatic Arts in the School of Fine Arts, combining interests as seemingly diverse as anthropology, history, sociology, and forensic science.
“What interests me about costume design is that I consider it moving sculpture,” says Crow, who received the 2010 UConn Alumni Association Faculty Excellence in Research Award in the Humanities/Social Sciences. “I like doing research into the society, the manners and the physicality of the characters represented in the plays.”
A product of the socially turbulent 1960s, Crow studied under some of the profession’s noted stars. While earning a bachelor of fine arts degree at Boston University, she was guided by Horace Armistead, former resident designer for the Metropolitan Opera, and costume designer Maureen Heneghan Tripp. “She was brilliant,” Crow says, “and from her I learned how to research backwards and forwards.”
Crow pursued a master of fine arts at the University of Wisconsin so that she could study with John Ezell, one of contemporary theater’s most influential scenic designers. “He taught me to dream and not be restricted by what is considered possible,” she says.
When she was still in her 20s, one of her stops was the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London. There, she took a course in art history that focused on forgery. Crow says, “If you study costumes in depth, you can generally date a painting to within six months of the date it was created. One of the quickest ways of discovering whether something is a forgery is to study how the clothing is painted.”
Crow went on to work on plays in the West End, London’s equivalent of Broadway, before returning to the United States to a theater company in Chicago, where she worked on the production of “WARP,” a show she describes as “comic book science fiction.” Even though the play closed soon after it moved to Broadway, Crow won a Drama Desk Award for best costume design for her first-ever New York City production.
The accolades didn’t stop there, and over the years she has been recognized for her work both on and off Broadway and in many regional theaters. Among the honors she has earned are the Drama Desk, Obie, Villager, American Theater Wing, and Maharam Awards (New York); Dramalogue and Back Stage West Garland Award (Los Angeles); Bay Area Critics Award (San Francisco); and the Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago).
During her 13-year tenure as resident costume designer for the famed Circle Rep Theatre in New York City, she was instrumental in creating a new design aesthetic for the theater called Poetic realism. In describing it she says, “Poetic realism takes a play that is realistic and pushes the aesthetic through lush detail and controlled color to create something that has a heightened reality.”
Marshall Mason, founder of Circle Rep, says that Crow has made important contributions both as an expert in the area of fabrics and as an historian. According to Mason, “Laura Crow is truly a 21st-century artist, utilizing technology to advance knowledge and research, while maintaining her personal influence on students and artists with whom she comes in contact. In my mind, she virtually defines a ‘Distinguished Professor.’”
Since joining UConn’s fine arts department in 1994, Crow has introduced many design students to professional theater. In her nomination letter to the UConn Alumni Association Awards Committee, Karen S. Ryker, professor of dramatic arts, said about her colleague, “She engages on a personal level and readily shares her extensive knowledge and interest in many fields … she encourages [students] to think creatively and to generate new projects such as the most recent World Stage Design project in Korea, which won acclaim for UConn’s design and puppetry programs.”
The recipient of a Fulbright Senior Scholar Research Fellowship, Crow studied the multicultural aspects of Filipino festival dress during a sabbatical in the Philippines in 2002. She has also brought her love of multiculturalism into the classroom through her recruitment of international designers into the Master of Fine Arts Program in costume design.
As head of the International Costume Working Group within the International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects, and Technicians, she has visited more than a dozen countries to work with theater artists. The group will next meet in the Czech Republic in June for the Prague Quadrennial, a gathering of leading designers from 60 countries around the world.
This article was published in the Spring 2011 edition of UCONN Magazine.