Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Erin Slattery Black, December 21, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - Costume design career

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Partial Transcript: Bifocals, it's hard.--(laughs)--Uh, this is--I am, uh, Kopana Terry and it is December 21st, 2020 and I'm talking to Erin Slattery Black.

Segment Synopsis: Black is a costume designer and has worked as a freelancer in New York City for twenty years in film, television, and theater. Recently, she has started teaching costume design at New York University. She works for "Sesame Street" and Little Orchestra Society, among other side projects.

Keywords: Children; College professors; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Costume craftspeople; Costume craftsperson; Costume designers; Costume makers; Films; Freelance work; Gig workers; Gigs; Little Orchestra Society; Movies; Music education; New York City (N.Y.); Puppets; Responsibilities; Stability

Subjects: Art.; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; College teaching.; Communicable diseases.; Costume design--Vocational guidance.; Costume design.; Costumes and clothes; Design; Epidemics.; Motion pictures.; New York (State); New York University; Pandemics and COVID-19; Quarantine.; Sesame Street (Television program); Sewing.; Tailoring--Pattern design.; Teachers.; Teaching.; Textile artist; Textile artists.; Textile crafts.; Textile design.; Theater; Women artists.; Women teachers.

00:01:45 - Effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on her employment

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Partial Transcript: What were you doing, um, in March before the shutdown?

Segment Synopsis: In March 2020, Black was teaching full time. Initially she thought that the COVID-19 pandemic wasn't going to affect their daily lives. She has been teaching virtually during the pandemic. She talks about the struggle of balancing her work with helping her young children with their virtual school experience. She talks about her students who graduated during the pandemic and have no job opportunities. Her freelance gigs have disappeared. She discusses the anticipated "Sesame Street" movie that is still in limbo.

Keywords: Children; College professors; College students; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Costume craftspeople; Costume craftsperson; Costume designers; Costume makers; Crews; Effects; Emotions; Expectations; Feelings; Films; Freelance work; Fulltime jobs; Fulltime teaching; Gig workers; Gigs; Impact; Jobs; Little Orchestra Society; Lockdowns; Movies; New York City (N.Y.); Online education; Online learning; Online school; Precautions; Puppets; Reactions; Responsibilities; Shutdowns; Stability; Television; Virtual education; Virtual learning; Virtual school; Work from home

Subjects: Art.; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; College teaching.; Communicable diseases.; Costume design--Vocational guidance.; Costume design.; Costumes and clothes; Design; Epidemics.; Motion pictures.; New York (State); New York University; Pandemics and COVID-19; Quarantine.; Sesame Street (Television program); Sewing.; Tailoring--Pattern design.; Teachers.; Teaching.; Textile artist; Textile artists.; Textile crafts.; Textile design.; Theater; Women artists.; Women teachers.

00:08:56 - Backstage Bazaar

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Partial Transcript: Well that brings me to one of the things that you've done, uh, to help your colleagues and that is backstagebazaar.com.

Segment Synopsis: Black discusses how she developed the platform Backstage Bazaar and what it does. Backstage Bazaar brings together the theater artists and costume designers who are selling crafts and other handmade items as a primary source of income. She had a former graduate school classmate, Truly Carmichael, help her get the project in motion. They anticipated 25-50 artists would join, but got over 100. They have been using social media and talking to people in order to increase traffic to the shops.

Keywords: Artists; Arts; Backstagebazaar.com; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Costume craftspeople; Costume craftsperson; Costume designers; Costume makers; Customers; Etsy.com; Freelance work; Friends; Gig workers; Growth; Helping; Links; Makers; Making; Online marketplace; Promotion; Prop artisans; Sales; Selling; Shopping; Shops; Social media; Success; Support; Theater artists; Truly Carmichael; Virtual sales platforms; Web design; Websites

Subjects: Art.; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; Communicable diseases.; Costume design--Vocational guidance.; Costume design.; Costumes and clothes; Design; Epidemics.; Pandemics and COVID-19; Quarantine.; Sewing.; Tailoring--Pattern design.; Textile artists.; Textile crafts.; Textile design.; Theater

00:15:03 - Instability of freelance work

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Partial Transcript: What can you tell me about some of the artists, um, who--I, I know you've said repeatedly that you're one of the lucky ones. Have you heard about, uh, anybody who just has decided to leave the business, they're so broken by this they've just left?

Segment Synopsis: Black talks about people who have left the freelance artist business due to instability. She discusses the perils of freelancing, including not making enough to save and having trouble with unemployment insurance. She is inspired by her young students improving their talents, having dreams, and having hope for the future.

Keywords: Careers; College students; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Freelance work; Generations; Gig workers; Gigs; Helping; Hope; Income; Inspiration; Job loss; Jobs; New York City (N.Y.); Quitting; Stability; Support; Young artists; Young people

Subjects: Art.; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; College teaching.; Communicable diseases.; Costume design--Vocational guidance.; Costume design.; Costumes and clothes; Design; Epidemics.; Housing.; Motion pictures.; New York (N.Y.); New York (State); New York University; Pandemics and COVID-19; Quarantine.; Stage managers; Supplemental unemployment benefits; Teachers.; Teaching.; Textile artists.; Textile crafts.; Textile design.; Theater; Unemployed.; Unemployment insurance.; Unemployment.; Women artists.; Women in higher education.; Women teachers.

00:17:25 - Difficulties of teaching online

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Partial Transcript: Was it, uh, was it a hard transition for you to, to move from in-person teaching to online?

Segment Synopsis: Black discusses how hard it was to transition to virtual teaching, especially for teaching costume design.

Keywords: Adaptation; Adjustment; College professors; College students; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Costume craftspeople; Costume craftsperson; Costume designers; Costume makers; Fabrics; Hands-on; Online education; Online learning; Online school; Personal relationships; Redesigning; Tactile; Virtual education; Virtual learning; Virtual school; Work from home

Subjects: Art.; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; College teaching.; Communicable diseases.; Costume design--Vocational guidance.; Costume design.; Costumes and clothes; Design; Epidemics.; New York (N.Y.); New York (State); New York University; Pandemics and COVID-19; Quarantine.; Sewing.; Tailoring--Pattern design.; Teachers.; Teaching.; Textile artists.; Textile crafts.; Textile design.; Theater; Women artists.; Women in higher education.; Women teachers.

00:18:32 - Early interest and education in costume design

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Partial Transcript: Is there a lot of drawing involved with costume design?

Segment Synopsis: Black describes how she got interested in costume design in middle school through school plays. She designed costumes all four years of high school. She got a work study job in costume design in college and double majored in theater and education. She went to University of Texas at Austin for graduate school for costume design. She talks about attending a networking event in New York and was offered a job with the Jim Henson Company soon after college. She mentions the Emmy Awards they have received for "Sesame Street."

Keywords: Acting; Auditions; Camelot (Musical); Careers.; Catholic schools; Children's theater; Connie Peterson; Costume craftspeople; Costume craftsperson; Costume designers; Costume makers; Costumes; Costuming; Emmy Awards; Friends; Graduate schools; Interests; Job offers; Jobs; Master of Fine Arts (MFA); Mentors; Mentorship; Middle schools; Ming Cho Lee; Musicals; Networking events; Occupations.; Plans; Plays; Professions.; Salem Witch Trials; School plays; Skills; Stage managers; The Crucible (Play); Theater departments; Theater for youth; Theater majors; Vocation.; Work.

Subjects: Art.; Costume design--Vocational guidance.; Costume design.; Costumes and clothes; Design; Drawing.; Housing.; Jim Henson Company; New York (N.Y.); New York (State); Oshkosh (Wis.); Painting.; Sewing.; Stage managers; Tailoring--Pattern design.; Textile artists.; Textile crafts.; Textile design.; Theater; Travel.; University of Texas at Austin; Women artists.; Women in higher education.

00:27:48 - Future of the theater after the pandemic

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Partial Transcript: What do you think the business is gonna look like when it finally comes back online?

Segment Synopsis: Black says she thinks that theater will continue, but will be smaller. She thinks that artists need to reexamine the stories that are told so that the diversity of America is represented.

Keywords: Adaptations; Adjustments; Budgets; Changes; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Different; Diversity; Expectations; Lockdowns; Precautions; Progress; Reopening; Representation; Safety; Shutdowns; Stories

Subjects: Art.; Broadway Theatre (Organization : New York, N.Y.); COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; Communicable diseases.; Epidemics.; Fiction.; Pandemics and COVID-19; Quarantine.; Storytelling.; Theater

00:29:25 - Working on "Sesame Street"

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Partial Transcript: Take me through, um, a day in your life working on "Sesame Street." What's that like?

Segment Synopsis: Black describes a day in the life of working on "Sesame Street." She gives some examples of what she has had to design, such as fishing vests for some of the characters, and how she thinks about designing the costumes.

Keywords: Characters; Costume craftspeople; Costume craftsperson; Costume designers; Costume makers; Costumes; Draping; Fabric; Freelance work; Fun; Gig workers; Gigs; Muppets; Patterns; Production meetings; Projects; Puppets; Research; Responsibilities; Schedules; Scripts; Supervisors; Walking; Workshops

Subjects: Art.; Broadway Theatre (Organization : New York, N.Y.); Costume design.; Costumes and clothes; Design; Dressmaking--Patterns.; Jim Henson Company; Sesame Street (Television program); Sewing.; Tailoring--Pattern design.; Tailoring--Patterns.; Textile artists.; Textile crafts.; Textile design.; Theater; Women artists.

00:32:37 - Artists' side jobs

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Partial Transcript: W--so you just went through a, a, a litany of people that it takes to make a production work.

Segment Synopsis: Black says a lot of her coworkers have side projects, but that now for many people that has become their main gig.

Keywords: Artists; Arts; Backstagebazaar.com; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Costume craftspeople; Costume craftsperson; Costume designers; Costume makers; Freelance work; Gig workers; Gigs; Income; Making; Money; Online marketplace; Prop artisans; Sales; Selling; Social media; Success; Support; Theater artists; Truly Carmichael; Virtual sales platforms; Web design; Websites

Subjects: Art.; Broadway Theatre (Organization : New York, N.Y.); COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; Communicable diseases.; Design; Epidemics.; Jim Henson Company; Pandemics and COVID-19; Quarantine.; Sesame Street (Television program); Textile artists.; Textile crafts.; Textile design.; Theater; Women artists.

00:35:13 - Lessons learned during the pandemic

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Partial Transcript: Can you think of anything that has happened in your life or in your business that--during this period of time that we haven't talked about?

Segment Synopsis: Black mentions that during the pandemic she has learned to be a more patient mother and has learned the importance of human connection.

Keywords: Arts and crafts; College professors; College students; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Human connection; Mothers; Relationships; Socialization; Socializing; Soft skills

Subjects: Art.; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; Children.; College teaching.; Communicable diseases.; Epidemics.; Mothers.; Pandemics and COVID-19; Quarantine.; Teachers.; Teaching.; Women teachers.