University of Dallas alumna Erin Kleiber only started stitching in her sophomore year of college but now works for the Washington National Opera. Kleiber, who graduated in 2014, began stitching because of a requirement that drama majors who are not cast in main stage productions must work on a technical aspect of theater production. Kleiber chose to work with professor Susan Cox in the costume shop to fulfill this requirement.
“I really enjoyed working there, so I kept coming back and kept working there and around my senior year of college I realized that I wanted to pursue costuming as a career,” said Kleiber.
Kleiber’s final project the spring of her senior year helped her realize that costuming could be a career. With the help of director Stefan Novinski, Kleiber designed and built turn-of-the-century rural Russian garments for the campus’ main stage production of “Three Sisters.”
“To design [for] a main stage [production], which was something that undergrads don’t really get to do, made me start to think that I had potential … that maybe it was something I should start to pursue,” Kleiber said.
The costumes she worked on represented a variety of styles.
“Some of the people [in the play] are upper-class, and some of the people are soldiers and some of the people are serving-class,” Cox said. “It was a variety … The women’s clothes were built and we rented the men’s clothing.”
Cox, who has designed and draped everything from costumes to puppets said:
“Costumes help tell the story. They help people recognize what period of time it is, they help people understand who the people are just as our clothing everyday helps us understand something about each other. You look at somebody and before you meet them you get an idea of who they are by what they’re wearing.”
Kleiber also took several classes with Cox.
“She did a beautiful civil [war] dress from the 1860s,” Cox said, recalling Erin’s work. “Erin is enthusiastic, she’s curious, smart, engaged, talented, she had a lot of different kinds of abilities … so she had choices of what it was she was going to do with her career.”
Kleiber chose to return home to Virginia and begin working at the familiar Washington National Opera.
“The opera is a part of the Kennedy Center, which is a theater venue that I used to go to all the time when I was living in D.C.,” Kleiber said, explaining her reasons for applying to the Washington National Opera.
Despite finding employment quickly after college, her future remains open.
“Costume [designing] is something I might want to pursue in the future, but there’s also a lot of other career opportunities to costuming – you could manage a shop, or you could be a design assistant or a costume coordinator,” Kleiber said. “I think it’d be interesting to do any of those jobs.”
Cox described how UD’s comprehensive education helps shape varied interests in people.
“One of the things that’s great about this school is that it prepares you to engage in ideas about several things,” Cox said.
Even after creating costumes professionally, Kleiber still appreciates and remembers fondly her time at UD.
“Seeing all that stuff go from being what was just in my brain to a full, actually realized costume was probably my favorite thing that I’ve done,” Kleiber said.