Paul Tazewell: A Costume Designer’s Exhibit

Paul Tazewell was born in Akron, Ohio and educated in the public school system. As an asthmatic child he couldn’t always engage in outside activities and
experimented with many artistic endeavors. He began his art career at an early age when his mother put food coloring on his high chair tray and gave him a pastry brush to paint with. He was always creating something. Paul made his first rag doll at the age of four and later became the delight of his elementary school art teacher because he won so many city school prizes. He wasn’t always a Costume Designer. In fact he built the spinning wheel for his 5th grade class play of Rumpelstiltskin. He had a great interest in puppetry and made several puppets for school projects, including Miss Haversham from Great Expectations and a character from Ain’t Misbehaving.
Paul acted in several plays in Junior High School and performed in the chorus of Pippin at one of the community theatres in Akron. He had the opportunity to attend a magnet performing arts high school where he acted in several plays and designed and built the costumes for The Wiz. He also played the character, the Wiz. It was during this time that he took his first trip to Broadway on a high school field trip. Paul was also able to attend a costume design class at Akron University for outstanding theatre students.
When the time came for Paul to go to college he was in a quandary as to whether he should go into dance or into costume design. He attended NC School of the Arts where he was only allowed to major in one discipline, so after much agony he chose costume design and received his BFA in Costume Design from NCSA. For his thesis he designed costumes for The Canterbury Tales. Paul then went on to Grad School at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where he earned his MFA in Set & Costume Design.
Paul began doing much of his work at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. and won his first Helen Hayes Award in 1994 for The African Company Presents Richard III. In 1996 he began his designing experience on Broadway with Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. He was nominated for a Tony Award for this show, the first of four Tony nominations.
Paul has designed shows from the east coast to the west coast and in places in between such as Cleveland, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Santa Fe just to name a few. He has also designed costumes for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada and for shows in London and Paris. In 2002 he designed masks and costumes for the Kenyan production of The Birds directed by his brother Jonathan. In 2007 he designed the costumes for Take Flight, the story of Amelia Earhart, a new musical produced in Japan. In 2003 Paul became an Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
Paul has always done research on his costumes, whether they are period costumes  such as The Color Purple which is spread over four decades, or fantasy costumes such as those of The Wiz. He studies the script, researches the dress, draws the sketches of the characters and finally chooses the fabric. The costumes are built by members of an inside or outside theatre shop but Paul does attend the fitting of the costumes.
Unlike many costume designers, Paul completes his sketches not only of clothing but of the features and often the accessories of the characters. Paul is currently working on the U.S. production of Faust which will open at the Metropolitan Opera in the late fall and on the traveling production of Memphis.
Paul’s awards and honors include: Lucille Lortel Award for On the Town, two Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Costume Design (The African Company Presents Richard III and Peer Gynt), a Michael Merritt Award, and the AUDELCO Award for Harlem Song. The TDF Irene Sharaff Young Master Award and a Princess Grace Fellowship.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Terri
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 08:22:33

    We miss Paul here in Stratford! Its interesting to see the pieces I cut / built for Mr. Plummer here!


  2. Trackback: An Interview with Flashdance Costume Designer, Paul Tazewell « PlayhouseSquare Behind the Curtain Blog

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