Kevin Reed: Refusing to Settle

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Stitching his way into graduate school.

Story | Jennifer Baker • Photo | Taylor Ringenberg

Kevin Reed is a man on a mission. The Austin, Texas, native attended high school at McCallum Fine Arts Academy, where he focused on drawing. During his time at McCallum, he began to take part in theater and then realized he wanted to participate in something more creative than just stage management. His theater teacher asked if he could sew, and Reed said yes. He lied. As a result, she made him the costume crew head for the school’s next show. Between his ability to draw and newfound love of costumes, Reed decided to major in costume design in college.

“I think costume design, out of all the areas of design, is one of the most nostalgic areas. We have adapted less with technology to where, I would say we’re probably a little bit more stubborn,” Reed says.
He didn’t apply to any schools in Texas. His parents wanted him to go to school there because it would be less expensive, but Reed had made up his mind.
“I wanted every advantage to sink or swim because it is a rough field, and I wanted to make sure I was top-notch.”
Though he applied to 13 other schools, Reed knew he’d found his perfect match when he interviewed at Webster University.
His first two years in the program were sewing intensive. His first summer at Webster, he worked in wardrobe and his second summer he worked as a stitcher in the costume shop. While working at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis (OTSL), Reed realized the exact direction in which he wanted to take his career: designing costumes for opera.
“I have loved working for OTSL. OTSL is such a phenomenal company and I’m so glad they’re just right next door,” Reed says. “[An] opera takes everything and turns it slightly to the left. They create these strange worlds—often times they’re period—and they’re really conceptual. Conceptual, in my brain, is just so much more fun. It’s like a playground for opera.”
Reed started dabbling in scene design this year, a common interdepartmental endeavor for costume designers.
“That would be the ultimate goal: to be designing at some huge opera somewhere. That would be that ‘a-ha’ moment.”
This summer Reed will be interning at The Muny. He’s looking forward to working on “Mary Poppins,” though his favorite operas range from “Sweeney Todd” to “Don Giovanni.”
From his internship to completing his bachelor’s, Reed is already thinking about his next step as a junior. He wants a master’s degree in costume design. However, Reed appreciates that he is already getting the kind of experience that would usually be reserved for students in graduate-level programs at bigger schools—another reason Reed chose Webster.
“Since we don’t have a master’s program above us, as juniors and seniors we get to design. We’re not losing opportunities to grad students,” he says. “With a lot of the bigger programs, as an undergrad you’re kind of grunt labor for almost the whole four years.”
The list of schools he’s looking at for his master’s degree is short: New York University, Yale University, Carnegie-Mellon University and North Carolina University. If he doesn’t get accepted, he plans on continuing to work on his career and reapplying again later to the same four universities. He doesn’t plan on settling for anything less.
“Any shortcoming can be excused if you put people first,” Reed says. “All it takes is just to understand how to make sure that everyone’s at ease, to make sure that you’re doing your best, to make sure everything’s functioning most effectively and to keep everyone calm and happy. I think that’s the biggest key to any success that I’ve had.”

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