Hilary Rosenfeld

Costume Designer

Conducted by Sydney Maresca on April 14, 2022 at Bristol, Rhode Island and Kingston, New York via Zoom

Hilary Rosenfeld, 2022. Photo: John Exel.

Throughout her longstanding career, costume designer Hilary Rosenfeld (b. 1950) has worked in performance media ranging from film and television to theater and opera. She is a graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU) where she specialized in stage and film design. She also taught in NYU's undergraduate program in drama production and design through 2021.

As a designer, Rosenfield has expressed a notable sensitivity to actors’ processes and character details. Especially well-known for her work on the movie Dirty Dancing (1987) with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, she has designed costumes for films starring some of the most well-known actors of the 1980s. Among them are Eyewitness (1981) with William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver; Desert Bloom (1986) featuring John Voight, JoBeth Willams, and Annabeth Gish; No Mercy (1986) showcasing Richard Gere and Kim Basinger; Dominick and Eugene (1988) with a cast led by Tom Hulce and Ray Liotta; Triumph of the Spirit (1989) with Willem Dafoe and Edward James Olmos; and the western The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982) also with Edward James Olmos. She worked with Sean Penn and Christopher Walken for At Close Range (1986), an experience that she reflects upon in this interview. Rosenfeld’s costume designs for theater have crossed a wide variety of venues and genres. They include Broadway productions such as Elizabeth Swados’s Runaways (1978) as well as off-Broadway shows and regional theater. Through the group Rehabilitation Through the Arts, Rosenfeld also has worked with Bedford Hills Women's Correctional Facility, one of the largest maximum security prisons in New York state. In addition to costume design, Rosenfeld has been a production designer for film and television projects including Caught (1996), Human Error (2004), Downtown Express (2011), the PBS program Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power (2014) and the award winning short Unburden (2012).

In this interview, Rosenfeld discusses her personal history, collaborations with directors and actors, research approaches, design process, and pedagogy. She also addresses designing and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, and balancing parenting and professional work. The interview was conducted via Zoom with Hilary Rosenfeld in Bristol, Rhode Island, and Sydney Maresca in Kingston, New York. 

Interview duration: 1 hour.

Sydney Maresca (SM): Good morning.

Hilary Rosenfeld (HR): Hi, there you are.

SM: Hi. Your hair looks so great all white.

HR: Yes, the pandemic was the right time to do it, you know. The most horrifying part was teaching in person at NYU [New York University] and seeing the back of my head on the Zoom screen at the same time. I got through it, and it’s over, and I moved someplace where nobody knows me with brown hair.

SM: How is Rhode Island? How was the move?

HR: The move was horrendous. You, as a costume designer, can understand that. You see all those books behind you [gestures to the Zoom screen]. I had to have a friend come over and go, “You don’t need three gardening books just keep one.”

SM: Sure, but those other two were probably good.

HR: They were very good books. The clothes on the last day of the move, the movers found boxes of postal workers’ uniforms that were going in the dumpster because I didn’t have—I gave away so much stuff It was just incredible. “Are you a postal worker?” No, no way.

SM: You never know when you're going to need to dress a dozen postal workers.

HR: Yes. Or the hospital uniforms, or the hospital gear and all that stuff. It was horrible.

SM: I feel it. I really feel that.

HR: It was very disorienting, because I think the thing that we all do is we look at something and say, “What could I use this for? How can I reuse this?”

SM: And what if I need it later?

HR: What if I need it? What if I could have made a lamp shade out of it? What if I could make this all into a hooked rug?

SM: The hooked rug is a slippery slope, because anything can become a hooked rug.

HR: That's right. So the thing is that this is a great place to be if you’re interested in history, because it has a shady history. Slave port, the first. We’re a half hour from Newport and we’re a half hour from Providence and our daughter is in Providence. It’s just a great little town. I can walk to the water, I can walk to the library. My husband [John Excel]’s been taking Portuguese at the library. This is it. So, it’s a slave town. It has incredible Portuguese heritage and it was an offshoot of the Plymouth colony. Some Bostonians who needed to raise taxes to pay the Brits after the tea party, they scarfed up some land not too far away and now, it’s like an hour and a half by— well, I don’t know, how long is it by horse, right?

SM: Like just a day by horse?

HR: Yeah, it’s like a day by horse and they sold it off to raise money for taxes. Wow. So it’s just it’s an incredible little town. I think you know, the design world has changed and so has the product that’s coming out. Look at David Mamet. I worked on some very early Mamet plays. I just think theater world has changed and we’ve evolved. The world has changed. Our icons have changed. I would say that I was radicalized by the language of David Mamet. When I worked as Santo [Loquasto]’s assistant, I worked on some very early Mamet plays and they were radical. He wrote some really interesting early plays, and this is a perfect example of how you can’t take him out of the canon. Like you can’t take Picasso out of the canon, or any of those people who did horrible things. But you have to reevaluate it and it’s like a landmark, you have to mark them. You have to mark them and say: this is a landmark of a time that no longer exists. I just think the world has really changed. Whoever thought that we’d see teaching online? Whoever thought that we’d be interested in that at all?

SM: Can I ask you a question about Mamet? You talked about how radical the language was, what felt so radical about it to you?

HR: Oh, it was the pacing of it. There were other playwrights who didn't catch on quite as much who were really interesting like David Rabe was also an interesting playwright of that time. Why didn't David Rabe catch on in the same way? He had some successes, Sticks and Bones, and those were all out of the Vietnam War, but Mamet really caught on in a way that was lauded. For a white man to be having that kind of radical linguistic movement of that time was really interesting. Now he's gone and politically in the other direction, which is sort of anti-artist, I mean, I don't know. Well, in the cast of—it's being redone now on Broadway with Lawrence Fishburne. American Buffalo. It was Robert Duvall in place of Lawrence Fishburne, and Duvall had been a method-y film actor going back to the stage. Ulu Grosbard was the director. Santo was the designer, Kenneth McMillan played Donny and John Savage was Bobby. It was really interesting, and in the days of clothes, you couldn't buy pre-aged clothes. So for a theater piece you were multiplying many versions of the same aged clothes starting from scratch. Days, days on end, trying to find a similar jacket for Duvall, so that he could have more than one in case something happened.

SM: You're not shopping vintage stuff are you?

HR: No, you were shopping brand new pants. New, ironed Dacron/cotton pants that you had to age so that they could get through eight performances a week.

SM: The shopping experience was totally different than now?

HR: Yeah, no online. You had to really find things. When I worked for Santo, because he did both sets and costumes on a play a lot, I was really on my own.

SM: I imagine if you're assisting a designer who's doing both sets and costumes, you're really carrying the load for the costumes.

HR: Yeah. Great experience.

SM: Did you work with Santo a lot?

HR: Yes, that was my grad school. NYU was grad and undergrad at that point, I was an undergrad student. I worked for Santo, Theoni Aldredge, John Conklin, and Albert Wolsky a little bit when he did plays at the Public [Theater]. And that was grad school. Really.

SM: What an incredible group of people to get to work with.

HR: Right. It's a different education now, because you get out of school and it's so theoretical, school, even when you do production. On the grad level, basically someone else builds your stuff for you.

SM: Must be nice.

HR: Yeah, Exactly.

SM: I worked in the shop all through grad school, so I was that someone.

HR: Even in undergrad, you see kids who are dying to learn how to sew, and no one is teaching them that. Or you see—my last term, last spring I had a grad student, he was just graduating, he wanted to work on Broadway. I said, “Are you in the union [United Scenic Artists 829]?” He said, “What union?” So basically he had spent whatever it is, like a quarter of a million dollars getting an education and he didn't know that there was one thing he had to do which was join the union. I took the kids out for ice cream like on our last day, when you could finally get outside and go out in the spring and someone said, “Well, don't you know, Santo, he's doing Music Man on Broadway?” And I said, “Yeah,” and I said, “It's early days, and I don't know whether Santo can hire a union assistant now. And frankly, you're green, you're just out of school so maybe you should volunteer to intern for him.” And he said, “Oh, I can't do that. I have a masters.” I said, “Yeah but, you know, you spend a month being the free person, and then Santo feels guilty, and then he says, ‘Oh, I gotta pay you something’ and then he knows you and you know the show and you've been there from the beginning, and then he goes, ‘Well, I guess I could fight the union and make you a union assistant.’” That's what you do and nobody's teaching that.

SM: It’s still, even after all that's changed, a really apprentice-based job. You learn from working.

HR: I think it's an experiential job, and there is no answer. Even if they're teaching you that this is the way you should do it, there is no answer, really. And that's what's interesting about it. The research you're talking about enjoying doing is what we all do. I feel like there are people who are attracted to this career for different reasons, and some of them are because they're smart and they see the interconnections between how people live and how you portray that in a story, or on the stage, or on the screen. How you give actors their character. I mean, you give them a universal version of their character and that is maybe based in reality, it's based in your experience, and it's hopefully based on some of their experience, and the director’s experience, and the writer’s experience, and you put it together in a way that makes some historical sense, so that other people understand it. That's what's interesting and that's what's maybe why some of us don't stay exactly in the mold of what we thought it was going to be. It's not about fashion. Although it's become more about fashion, now.

SM: Do you feel like it's really shifted?

HR: I just feel like it should be, because look, Ann Roth can design an eighteen-year-old as well as and maybe better than an eighteen-year-old can, because she has an overview of what it looks like. But I think a lot of—don't get me started on historical-based work that is more fashion-prom like Bridgerton, I can't even watch that. I just read an article about Greta Gerwig, an interview with Greta Gerwig, about why she couldn't use hoops and corsets in Little Women. It wasn't Little Women. It was not Little Women, it was a version of Little Women, but that is what Louisa May Alcott and those people had to deal with. How you moved in in those garments, and the idea of whalebone and structure. You can make compromises, but you can't take it away. There's a weaving studio near me, and for my birthday my daughter [Hanna Exel] booked a weaving class. I thought, “Okay, everybody I know is into weaving, I'm thinking about weaving. Why are all these costume people I know, smart costume people I know, like you and Beth Clancy and Chloe Chapin and lots of other people so into weaving?” And it was so hard.

SM: It's really hard.

HR: So hard. I should show you my little weaving. But interesting, very interesting. And what I thought was even more interesting is that the weaver didn't know the history, the history of weaving.

SM: Some craftspeople aren't interested in the history at all.

HR: Yeah, not at all. When I was talking about the—[Interrupted by someone coming up the stairs.]. And there’s my husband. I thought that was so interesting that weavers don't necessarily know the history of the craft.

SM: Do you have other art practices or making practices outside of design work?

HR: I don't.

SM: Interesting.

HR: Yeah, I mean I do those all those things that people do, you know, sew and mend and do all of that. No, I don't. It’s interesting, my daughter is a crafter. She's like an academic and a crafter, two separate issues, just as a hand comforting thing.

SM: But you don’t have that as a part of your—

HR: No, I don’t. But I might now.

SM: You knew when you were going to undergrad that you wanted to do costume design? How did you know that?

HR: I did it in high school.

SM: You did?

HR: Yes, I had a wonderful teacher in high school who—I was interested in plays, and I was interested in fine arts. I thought I might be a painter. Oh, I do draw. Yeah, I draw. She really was instrumental in sort of guiding me into that. I did the sets, I wanted to be a set designer actually, and maybe an architect. I thought maybe an architect. And then, how many women architects were there in that period? And how many women set designers were there? And I could sew, so when I got to NYU it became the easier thing.

SM: Do you feel like you landed in costumes because it was—

HR: I just sort of landed in it. It had the same interest in telling stories, and more art history. Some people come at it from history, some people come at it from fashion, some people—I came at it kind of from art history. Which is why my daughter became an art historian. Because I—in twenty years you'll ask [your son] Atlas what he liked that you dragged him to and he'll say something that you’ll go, “Oh, Wow! I didn't realize I was having that much of an impact.”

SM: Will you talk a little about how being a designer and a parent related to each other, what your experience was like?

HR: Oh, I think, incredible. I do remember when Hanna was little, very little. I was doing production design and costumes on an indie movie. And she was like four. I had an assistant who lived kind of near me. I had a car, so I would drive in from New Jersey to lower Manhattan, and it was raining one night, not too badly, it wasn't like a downpour, but I knew that Hanna would be waiting at the door. And so I said to my assistant, “Okay, I'm turning here, you can walk home.” She was outraged that I wouldn't drive her the four extra blocks which, as you know, in New York, is like ten blocks, and you have a four-year-old waiting at the door, waiting, waiting, waiting for you to be home. Years later I ran into her and she then had two children. She said, “Wow, I didn't realize, how hard it was being a parent and having a job, too.” Because the thing about being in the theater or the TV or the film world is that you're there sometimes and not all the time. It's not like you have the regularity that kids crave. I took my child all over. Once, my husband, her dad, put her on a plane when she was like eleven. And I do remember leaving her in the hotel room when I had very early calls and locking the door, and then calling her and asking, “Are you okay, are you okay?” But she remembers that as being a great time.

SM: And what were you feeling during that?

HR: I was feeling like, am I being a bad mother leaving her sleeping in the hotel? I was working from six to eight or nine, and I would go get her in the afternoon and let her hang out on the set in the afternoon. Sometimes you worry that you can't give your full attention to your child. Isn't that what [The] Lost Daughter is all about? What is your focus? Is your focus your intellectual focus? Or is your focus, your child, who you know is going to spend their whole life wanting to grow up and get away from you? I mean, in a good way. We moved here because Hanna is a half hour away, right? And as Hanna says, “It was a perfect location for you. You're half hour away from me. So glad that you're not right on top of me.” I think it makes you a better parent, too. I think it makes you a better parent, because you're used to multitasking. You're used to focusing quickly on something. You're used to having an opinion. You're used to also knowing that you might have to just—none of it is going to be perfect in the theater. Is any of it ever perfect? No. And that is the hardest thing to accept. And that's why, that kid, the grad student who wanted to have an assistant job, I'm like: wait a second, it's all about accepting that it's not going to be perfect. Like my weaving isn't perfect, you know. Some people would say, “Oh, I can't do this. I'm gonna move on.” Other people would say, “Oh, this is so interesting. I'm going to learn how to do it, and I see how I can make it better. And I see how I can compromise, and I see how I could.” Maybe you could have picked an easier pattern. But, of course, as a theater artist you pick the hardest, most challenging pattern, because that's what you do. My husband, who's a woodworker, says he's always so impressed that I don't judge people by their clothes. I evaluate people by their clothes.

SM: You're definitely reading their clothes.

HR: I'm not critical. I think everyone's choices are interesting. I think everyone's choices, I look at it in a different way, like it's their character.

SM: There's a real storytelling element to everyday clothes.

HR: Yeah, exactly. In fact, I think that people that look like they walked out of the store look vapid.

SM: That's an interesting read.

HR: Well, and that's the way you dress someone who you thought was vapid: all in one look. I have a friend who's got glorious gray hair, and she's modeling for Eileen Fisher. She's a film editor or a tape editor. So it's so funny to see her all dressed up in the way that the stylist there wants her to look, which is totally not the way she looks as a real person.

SM: For people who are going to read this who don't know what costume design is like, will you talk about your process as a designer?

HR: Oh, interesting. Interesting question. I read. I read the script and sometimes then if it's based on something else, I read that because I want to know what the writer, where the writer was coming from. I read about the history and the place because stories are very place centered. And then I look at endless pictures. I look at pictures first, and then fashion next.

SM: Describe the difference between pictures and fashion.

HR: Oh, well, pictures, if they're dated are the most valuable research, and if you know who the person was, and the circumstances that the picture was taken under that's really important, because—like Pinterest is the worst kind of resource, because it'll have—even though you could use it, and I can use it because we know how to date it, and who the people might be, and, you know, high-end fashion magazine to a catalog, and what the history of it was. You know if you just look at pictures of Worth dresses you don't know what fashion—you don't know how to dress characters in a story.

SM: Right, because that's just fashion and not the whole—

HR: That’s just fashion. It's interesting, in Providence there was a small company run by two sisters, and they were dressmakers. High-end dressmakers. So they actually created clothes that were more interesting because they were a combination of the person's taste, Paris fashion, and their own technical abilities. So, very interesting. And then they gave their whole archive to, or their heirs gave the whole archive of their receipts to see how much fabric cost, where the fabric was purchased, who the client was, because the clients had some input into what the clothing looked like, which was really interesting. So, for example, I have a picture of my grandmother. I have two pictures of my grandmother. Portraits. My father's mother, one was her high school graduation, so she was eighteen. It was 1908, and I knew that she was poor, and I knew that she was a high school graduate, which was unusual at that time, and I knew that she also, that these two pictures were the most glamorous pictures of her entire life. It was the pinnacle. It was the pinnacle, so that people say, “Oh, she was gorgeous!” No, she wasn't gorgeous. This was eighteen-years old. It was the crest of her life. Afterwards she got married, she had two children, her husband died, she was so poor she had to—I mean this was the pinnacle. So, when people say, “Oh, she was gorgeous,” this was the one moment in her life that—you know, everybody in that era wanted a beautiful picture of them where they looked immaculate. And so, the clothes were not—they were cobbled together, begged, borrowed from one sister and another sister, and the hat was something that she was made herself. And it's, you can't—I have my own story about those two pictures but when other people look at them they don't know that story, they don't know her financial circumstances, also that she had other relatives who were wealthy, her branch of the family was the poor branch.

SM: And that and that's not in the picture, so how can you dig up research for something like that when it's not in the picture?

HR: It’s not in the picture. But if you read, and you know what people's lives were like, you have some indication. So, it's not just looking at a picture, either.

SM: So, in the design process, you would call this research?

HR: Yes, I would call that research.

SM: And then after research, what's next?

HR: You try to match characters with that kind of story. Like, if it's a wealthy character with good taste for the time you match that. If it's, you know, in the turn of the century when immigrants were coming here, sometimes immigrants came and they were well bred, and they were educated, and they were working as governesses to wealthy people because they were maybe not married and didn't have the ability to work in a factory, so they were governesses because they had social skills that they could translate. But they didn't have money to dress well, but they knew how to dress well.

SM: That's part of social skills in a lot of ways, being able to read that.

HR: Yeah, or like an actress who has no social skills. And yet, even in the even at the turn of the century, might have a lot of money or people paying for things.

SM: Do you do draw for projects or sketch?

I do, I do.

SM: How is that important for your process?

In films, there's so much that's background that you don't have an opportunity to actually draw. You gather together a wardrobe of things, of towns, of people, of looks, and always thinking about characters, too. In film, sometimes I sketch one thing or two things, not everything. 

The Burning Fiery Furnace, 2017. Watercolor on paper. Photo courtesy Hilary Rosenfeld

SM: Is it different for film and for TV, in your process?

HR: I think when you just turn research or boards in, you're letting somebody else create the dress or the suit, or what goes into it. And it makes you think. It makes you think, like, “Is this a character who has, if it's a male, have a pocket watch? What kind of fob is on that pocket watch?” It makes you actually think about all of those things.

SM: Are those drawings for you or are they for the director or for the actor or a combination?

HR: It’s for both. It's for all of those people, because in film you're a servant to many, many masters. You’re a servant to people's preconceived ideas about what they should be, actors’ preconceived ideas about what they should be wearing. It also gives you more control if it's sketched, instead of people then bringing in things from home and “Can I wear this?” or “Can I take off my corset?” you know.

SM: Do you have a mode of working in that you prefer, film or theater, or what's great about each of those in different ways?

HR: Yeah, they're all different. It’s all maybe the same process? It is the same process. And I think working in all of them is interesting, it makes you better at each one of them.

SM: I find films so hard because you lose the opportunity to revise that you have in theater.

HR: Yeah, that is it. You have to be right the first or second time.

SM: Because once it's in the camera, that's what it is.

HR: You can tweak it a little, but yeah. I think that, like now working on my house, the ability to look at a sample and make a choice quickly is what my career as a designer has given me.

SM: How many decisions do you think you make in a day as a designer?

HR: In a day? You make them every second. I mean, that’s what's interesting about it. It's the pace, and that is what is interesting about it. It's the pace. It's like, “No you can't do that.” So, what else can you do? You know, if I'm working on contemporary films, I usually create a closet, so that at the last minute when someone says, “Eh, I don't really feel like wearing that.” “But you agreed to it, like six months ago.” You say, “Well,” just like when you're getting dressed in the morning and you look in your closet, and you know, “that thing that I ironed, and it's all prepped and ready to put on this morning, I don't really feel like wearing that today.” So it's always good to have a closet that's in the characters head.

SM: Can you talk about working with actors? It’s such an intimate part of the job.

HR: Such an intimate part of the job. And if you can go with the flow with actors, you're better off. But you also, you need to never force them. And that's like being a parent isn't it, Sydney?

SM: Yeah.

HR: You need to say, “Okay,” not, “You must do this.” But, “This is why you should do this,” and maintain some of your own integrity, and let go a little when you see that your kid’s feeling really uncomfortable about it, and be understanding. Like, you know actors are fragile people and they're the ones who have to have the camera on them or be on stage. They're the ones who have to be comfortable in their costume and know how to work it, you know. You've figured it out and you've thought about all sorts of things that if you can share them with the actor, that might help them in their costume. At NYU I saw a young designer putting students who were playing older men in pants that were short, and I'm like, “That’s not—older men don't wear those pants.” So if you're trying to make him look older that's not the way. That's your taste and not the characters taste. I think actors mostly want a lot of help. And if you can give them a character that feels comfortable then that's good. I worked with Chris Walken on a movie, At Close Range, with Sean Penn and Sean just wanted his clothes in the room ahead of time. He wanted, before we even started, he wanted all of his clothes all ready to go. So he didn't have to think about it, it was understandable. Chris, however, wanted flexibility and your support. So this was shot half day, half night, and sometimes, and so I couldn't work—usually I’m on set while the filming is happening but if it's half day half night I couldn't be prepping, I couldn't go to stores, and purchasing, and making sure that things got done. I would get these phone calls like at two o'clock in the morning, and have to drive myself to set so that Chris and I could have this conversation about whether to wear the pocket T-shirt or the non-pocket T-shirt.

SM: And you have to do that conversation.

HR: And you have to, yes. It's not like you have control over him but he's looking for your support, and he would do anything. And you're taking out one obstacle of his performance that could help him. And you're having to explain to them why the non-pocket T-shirt is better than the pocket T-shirt.

SM: Because they need to really feel that it's the right shirt and you have to do that as part of your job.

HR: Yeah, that's your job and that's what's fun. That's what's sometimes fun about it, you know. Because when—is it a control thing? A little bit of a control thing, yeah. But it's the creation, it's the collaboration of creating that character. I mean, we made a bowling shirt for him. I mean.

SM: Was he so happy to get exactly the shirt—

HR: He was so happy. And it was only because we couldn't find a bowling shirt that was like shades of gray, you know. I mean, nobody buys a bowling shirt that’s shades of gray. But the director wanted him to be more generic, and Chris is never generic. So it was like a toning him down and making him feel happy and comfortable, and the director feeling like he had gotten some of his thoughts in the character.

SM: That story is such a great example of how you have to know what so many different people's processes are, so that you can support them like Sean Penn has one process, you have to know that. Christopher Walken has another process, you have to know that. And then the director has a whole other set of feelings and needs and process, and you have to balance all of that.

HR: Yes. But that's why you do it and you're not a fashion designer.

SM: Yeah, that's right.

HR: Yeah, because, although some—I have a friend who was doing very high-end sample sales, a very dear, a very dear friend. And so she said, would you come in and work with me on these sample sales, and I said—and these are insane so Oscar de la Renta and J. Mendel, and I was the one who could tell a bride how her dress, the dress, could be altered. Because if you're buying $35,000 dress that's marked down to $5,000, you know, “Could I make it look right? Could I make it the right dress for me?” It is so interesting to see women who have no sense of their bodies, no sense. Or no sense of what—like a wedding dress is a costume, right?

SM: Oh, for sure.

HR: It's a costume. So people who usually would only wear sneakers are now being forced into wearing a strapless dress and some kind of heel, and their hair's going to be, and they have to have makeup, and this is like not really who they are, but—it's totally interesting to watch that process.

SM: They're so lucky that they had you with your costume designer skill set.

HR: That's what my friend, Jennifer who’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Oh, there was—I learned I shouldn't give out my cell phone number, and I also learned that I shouldn't say, “I know where you can get it altered.” [Laughs.] Because, I mean I do know where you could get it altered. But I also know that I would have no friends in the costume business if I sent some of these bridezillas to them.

SM: Because you also have to protect your relationships with the costume shops.

HR: Exactly. Exactly. You do. You know, people that want it one way—I mean, kids who are going into it because they want total control are going in for the wrong reasons, I think. It’s the collaboration that is fun and the personal interaction, and those relationships.

SM: Yeah, I think I can't do the job if you're not hooked on collaboration.

HR: No, no. And we both watch students who are the wrong fit for any of this and you can't say, “Maybe you should rethink this career choice.” You know, my daughter, she likes the steadiness of a job. And meanwhile, I mean NYU was the longest job I ever had.

SM: Yeah, because you have a new job every month, sometimes.

HR: Oh, yeah. Or two at the same time.

SM: Do you have any favorite projects or favorite collaborators you want to talk about?

HR: Oh, yeah, I just lost one of my favorite collaborators, an opera director Ed Berkeley, who died last summer after I did [A] Midsummer['s Night Dream] at [The] Juilliard [School] with him, which was all remote on my part. I was all remote. I couldn't—Ed was begging for them to let me in the building, but Juilliard's COVID protocols were so strict. I think I spent more hours on Zoom doing that. I mean, I went to every makeup session on Zoom, and every time the Juilliard assistant pulled something, we looked at it, it was amazing. And the thing about Ed that was so wonderful was that working with him made me, um—he really challenged me and yet he accepted. So you could give him things, like we did a Benjamin Britten opera the year before, The Burning Fiery Furnace. Nowhere in the libretta or in past productions were there masks. And opera singers and masks is a very complicated thing. I read that Britten was into Noh theater. The libretta is written as Biblical, but Ed put it in Auschwitz: burning fiery furnace. I was looking at the work of Picasso, and knowing that around Auschwitz there were store loads of articles that had been taken from people who were brought to Auschwitz. And so I created masks that were found objects from things that have been taken away from prisoners, and they were all holdable like Noh theater, and Ed really used them. The singers could also hold them and not have them right in front of their face. That was so exciting, to see that combination of things. You give a director something, you show them a sketch, and then you either find things or you get the prop person to find things, and then you sort of guide them through how it should look. They were all sketched because at Juilliard  you have to be very clear and sketch everything. But he just used them in such a brilliant way. And Santo came, it was hard to get tickets. Because that's how I had met Ed, through—I worked as Santo’s assistant on something, then Ed and I became friends and have stayed friends for a very, very long time. To see that, and Santo even said, “This is, your work is brilliant,” which meant a lot to me, and Ed was really happy that I got Santo to come, because Santo called Ed and said that the work, the show is really wonderful. So that was an amazing experience, and he was an amazing, amazing collaborator, on everything. And really made you work your tail off. But that’s the fun of it, isn't it, to see your work in the way you envisioned it. So, we envision a lot of things and our visions aren’t always carried out. [Laughs.] Like, “Why, the hell is she like not holding that skirt right?” No matter how many times you go and show her how hold it and how to walk with it, and you can't, the actress just can't do it. But to see your work really dealt with in the right way is so exciting and I don't know whether anybody, I know don't know how many people have that experience.

SM: Especially with something like masks, the level of collaboration really makes a difference between if it's happening or not happening.

HR: Usually a director wouldn't support you as much. Sometimes they say, “Oh, that's a great idea,” and then they’re out the door as soon as the actor says, “I can’t wear this hat, what are you talking about? No, I can't I can't walk in it.” Well, you know what your character would wear it, and you need to learn how to feel like the character in the clothes.

SM: But you need the support of the director for that to happen.

HR: Absolutely. And every last person in the—you need someone else in the company to say, “Oh, this is so cool.”

SM: “That hat looks amazing on you.”

HR: Well, that's the other thing you know, when you have people working with you. You have to huddle them together and say, “Okay, she's not gonna like this, but we are going to encourage her to like it, and that it's going to look fabulous.”

SM: Is there any one last thought you want to share before we wrap it up?

HR: No, I don't have any wrap up thoughts. But let's please keep in touch, thank you for asking me.

SM: Thank you.

[End of interview]

Poster for No Mercy (1986), costumes designed by Hilary Rosenfeld. Photo courtesy Hilary Rosenfeld.