Emmie Phelps finds success in costume design at Troy University

Chase Robinson
Copy Editor

Emmie Phelps’ love affair with theater began at a young age.
“I grew up in northern Virginia so we were super close to D.C., and my mom would take me to Washington to see shows,” said Phelps, a senior from Bonifay, Fla., majoring in communication arts in the theater track. “The first one I remember seeing was ‘Annie,’ and I thought that I wanted to be an actress, but I changed my mind very, very quickly.”
Phelps came to Troy in 2010, and the first show she worked on at Troy was “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
“I built some monkey tails for that,” Phelps said. “That’s when I really decided that costume design was what I wanted to do.
“All those years of Girl Scouts paid off.”
Since coming to Troy Phelps has been involved in 13 shows, and she has been a wardrobe mistress for 12 of those shows.
Phelps said she doesn’t enjoy acting.
“I did it once,” Phelps said. “I was in the Greek chorus my freshman year in ‘Metamorphosis,’ and I enjoyed it at the time.
“I was glad to have the experience, and I was glad to kind of be able to relate that to what I do now, but it’s just not for me.”
Phelps said she has “the utmost respect” for actors but draws more satisfaction from her design work than being on stage.
Phelps said she is proudest of her work on “Crimes of the Heart.”
“It was the most complete thing I’ve ever done, and I felt 100 percent pleased with the outcome,” Phelps said, “The research for that was really interesting, and its nice when the actors feel like you gave them something to work with rather than just putting them in clothes.”
Phelps said her enjoyment of literature and history has fed into her love for theater.
“If I wasn’t doing costume design, I would still be in theater, but I think I would be a dramaturge,” Phelps said. “I really love the history aspect of everything and that’s kind of what their job is, to explore the different literary context within the play.
“For example if it’s set in 1997 in Texas you’ve got to kind of figure out what’s going on in Texas at that time if there’s anything historically significant or socially significant.”
Phelps credits much of her success to her mentor, Elisa Bierschenk, an assistant professor of costume design.
“She taught me everything I know,” Phelps said. “We kind of have the same learning style and the same kind of educational ambition.”
Phelps also said her parents and boyfriend are an important part of her support structure.
“She just has a knack for it.,” said Matt Thompson, Phelps’ boyfriend and a Troy alum. “If she is lacking in a skill she pulls a ‘Bruce Lee’ and learns it overnight.”
Phelps said her mother is supportive of her aspirations.
“My mom has always shoved me into any kind of art I could possibly be in,” Phelps said. “I don’t think she was surprised when I decided to go into theater, and I think every year I continue to do this she gets more supportive.”
Phelps said initiative is essential to her success.
“Seek out opportunities,” Phelps said. “That’s really what helped me find what I love, and if you have the initiative to seek out those opportunities somebody somewhere is going to give you a chance and you’re going to find out if you love it or not.”
Jessica New, a senior psychology major from Huntsville, was Phelps’ roommate for a year and a half.
“She knows exactly what she wants from life and where she wants to be, and she has worked so hard to accomplish her dreams,” New said.
Phelps recently accepted an assistantship for Indiana University’s Costume Design MFA program.
“I’d like to pursue design professionally, but ultimately I’d like to teach costume design,” Phelps said. “I think that teaching is a stable profession, and I like school so I don’t want to leave.”
Phelps is currently working on Troy’s production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She said it should premiere in late April.

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