Erin Barnett Furman University Alumni

Erin Barnett '16

— Assistant Costume Shop Manager

Having a liberal arts background has helped me find ways to organize more effectively and consistently.


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

I am currently working as assistant costume shop manager for Jenny Wiley Theatre in Pikeville, Kentucky. I worked for the theatre during their summer season as a stitcher and they decided to hire me on as a full-time staff member in August.

Because I majored in theatre arts as well as economics, during my senior I was searching mainly for theatre jobs and was able to find summer employment through the job fair at Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) in the spring.

Throughout my time at Furman, I had several internships and jobs that led me to where I am today.

The summer after my sophomore year, I worked as the third hand (stitcher) for GLOW Lyric Theatre in Greenville.

I was also a costume shop assistant for the theatre department for two years. Both experiences helped me discover my passion for costuming.

In addition to these costuming experiences, the summer after my junior year, I was a front of house/marketing intern with Horizon Theatre Company in Atlanta.

In the fall of my senior year, I interned as a development associate with The Warehouse Theatre in Greenville.

Both were great opportunities to learn more about the administrative side of theatre, but I ultimately decided to go more towards the creative side (at least for now).
What motivations fueled your career path?

Although I’ve been involved in theatre since middle school, I really became passionate about it while at Furman. Once I knew I wanted to work in the theatre industry, I spent time exploring many of the different jobs within theatre to figure out which of them I enjoyed doing and could do well.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?
Something I think is important is watching theatre. If you’re interested in working in theatre, it’s necessary to see what it looks, sounds and feels like when it’s done correctly—or incorrectly—so you have an idea of where you personally can improve.

In addition to watching theatre, reading plays is always a good thing because you never know when you might work on a certain play and it gives context to the plays you do end up working on.
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?

Someone interested in the same career should take the Costume Crafts and Costume Design classes, along with some other design, crafts, and even art classes.

It would be beneficial to work for a theatre doing costuming during a summer season and to volunteer/work on as many shows as possible.

Having a portfolio with pictures of your work is also important.

What are some challenges you face in your industry?

Because theatre companies usually hire on a production-by-production basis, work can sometimes be inconsistent. I'm fortunate in my current job that I'm in-house, so I work on all the shows for the theatre. Nevertheless, it's common for designers, actors and directors to be hired on a short-term contract.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

Something I was told, but didn’t realize how true it was until I started working professionally, was the joke that “there are five people in theatre.” Since professional theatre artists often work at many different theatre companies on a show-by-show basis, everyone has an extended circle of coworkers.

It seems that everyone you work with knows someone you’ve worked with before. This is great because it provides constant networking opportunities, but you have to make sure you are always doing your best work and are easy to work with so that you can establish a good reputation for yourself in the industry.
What additional education or certification is required/recommended?

No additional education is required, but people who are interested in teaching design courses, becoming a resident designer at a university or designing professionally in-house for more well-known regional theatres (e.g., in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta) generally should have a Master of Fine Arts.

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

It has helped me balance the creative with the operational/organizational side of things. While people working in theatre are usually amazingly imaginative in terms of creating a show, sometimes the organizational aspects get left behind, which leads to problems later. Having a liberal arts background has helped me find ways to organize more effectively and consistently.
Any final advice for students or recent grads?

I didn't apply for my current job—I interviewed for the one over the summer and then was asked to continue working for them.

Also, my current job technically didn't exist prior to this year. I can't speak for other industries, but in theatre a lot of the time who you know and who you've worked with before leads to new jobs.

This is not to say you shouldn't continue applying for jobs—I did so many interviews/applications/auditions my senior year. But just keep in mind that the path to your career could be more about getting your foot in the door somewhere and less about finding the "perfect" job.


Were there particular courses within the economics department that were especially useful in helping you identify your career or that ended up helping you to be successful in your career?

Because my current career is so specific to the theatre industry, the skills that I learned in the courses are more relevant than the information I learned. So, for instance, the skills I developed in using Excel during Econometrics have been helpful to me in streamlining some organizational processes within the costume shop.
Were there particular projects or activities from any of your economics courses that were especially useful?

In Econometrics, we had a semester-long project/paper in which we did econometric research on a topic of our choice. Because I was involved about theatre, I chose to research the impact fundraising expenditures had on charitable giving in nonprofit arts organizations.

In my internship with The Warehouse Theatre, I saw some of the conclusions I had come to in my research reflected in things my supervisor told me about working as a director of development, which was interesting.

Were there particular "engaged learning" experiences that were especially useful?

All my theatre internships were useful in helping me identify my current career because interning in a variety of theatres taught me more about how the different departments in the theatre function.

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