‘Hamilton’ costume designer discusses race in theater industry


John Crawford-Spinelli, the dean of the College of the Arts (left), interviews Emmy and Tony Award-winning costume designer Paul Tazewell about his life as a costume designer after his speech Monday.

Quaylyn Hairston

“Hamilton” costume designer Paul Tazewell spoke about race and its influence on his career Monday at the E. Turner Stump Theatre at Kent State.

“Being a black man in theater, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” Tazewell said.

Presented by the College of the Arts in conjunction with the Thomas Schroth Visiting Artist Series, Tazewell shared his personal journey with a crowd of aspiring costume designers.

“I was glad to see so many students in attendance,” said John Crawford-Spinelli, the dean of the College of the Arts. “Mr. Tazewell is an extremely talented and insightful designer, and the stories he shared and advice he gave aspiring designers and artists was invaluable.”

The Tony and Emmy Award winning designer spoke on how being black affected his career, because of the few African-Americans recognized in design costumes for acts performed live on stage. As a costume designer, it has shaped Tazewell’s career from the beginning.

“I was inspired because I saw how similar his journey was to mine,” said Autumn Stackhouse, a junior fashion merchandising major. “I’m currently in the Fashion School, and it took me years to realize that costume is the path I should go.”

An Akron native, Tazewell found himself in the performing arts program in high school, where he started developing a love for costume design. He graduated from New York University with a master’s degree in fine arts.

Almost instantly, Tazewell witnessed a culture shock in the industry.

“I was typecast as a black costume designer for African-American shows,” he said.

He then began to venture out to operas, classical musicals and plays to make a difference in his designing lifestyle.

“Joe Dowling, artistic director, used me in the most colorblind way,” Tazewell said. The production “Hamilton,” it blew his mind from day one.

“It was game-changing,” Tazewell said.

He received an Emmy Award in 2015 for his work in NBC’s “The Wiz Live!” A year later, Tazewell was honored with his first Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Musical in “Hamilton.” 

“I felt validation of (being) a designer for 27 years,” Tazewell said.

He also has credit in Broadway plays like “In the Heights,” “Memphis” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Tazewell encouraged young students to “be open.”

He made me proud to be an aspiring costume designer,” Stackhouse said. “I felt like he was passionate about his job, and it made me more excited to go into the costume industry.”

Quaylyn Hairston is the entertainment reporter, contact her at [email protected].