From SNL to Reed

Introducing Costume Design Professor Cait Cisek

Cait Cisek is the newest addition to Reed’s theater department. As a visiting professor, she’ll serve as an Assistant Professor of Theatrical Design for the next two years. Cisek worked as a freelance stylist and designer in New York City before coming to Reed, and collaborated on commercials for Kiehls, Oral B, and Netflix. She also held a technical position in Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk. 

The Quest: How did you get into costume design?

Cait Cisek: I come to costume design through acting and through being a native New Yorker. It’s a theater town, so I grew up around a lot of theater, seeing a lot of theater. And I was acting for a long time. And I realized that that was an exciting experience, but that I actually wasn’t that good at it. But I’ve always loved sewing and working with my hands and design. And so I was really fortunate that I had an educator who saw that and saw that I had a home in the theater, but that I was maybe in the wrong room of my theater home. They redirected me to costumes, and I’ve never looked back.

Q: What jobs did you work before coming to Reed?

CC: I was largely a freelance costume designer, production designer, and stylist in New York City. I was doing things like designing costumes Off-Broadway, working in production, designing independent films, and then either styling or assistant styling on commercials. I worked for Adidas, and I’ve worked for G-Shock watches. I was also assistant costume designing on some network TV. So I worked for Billions, which is a Showtime show; Elementary; and right before I left New York, I had the opportunity to assist the film unit for Saturday Night Live. I was also in the education game part time. I was teaching with places like Kingsborough Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and also guest designing with private colleges like Mount Holyoke College, Case Western Reserve, Princeton University, and The New School. So I was kind of doing a little bit of all the things I do here, but spread out all over the country.

Q: What brought you to Reed?

CC: A number of things brought me here. I was really inspired by the proactiveness of the student body here. When I first applied, it was one of several jobs I was applying to, but when I got here, I was really impressed by how engaged the student populace was…  They were always prepared to challenge me or challenge their other educators, and get the most from their education. And so I thought, that’s an exciting environment to be in because it keeps me thinking and engaging. I’m not just here to repeat something I’ve done before, but to question it and take it to task. I’m a two year visiting professor, but I’m hoping that my time here is as much of an education for me as it is for maybe one of the students in my classes.

Q: What caused you to transition into teaching?

CC: I started to feel like I was at a crossroads of my freelancing career. I always think I’m going to have something to learn, but I realized that I had been educated in some ways that weren’t serving me. I felt pretty compelled to make sure that that wasn’t repeated for the next generation of theatre artists. And so I felt like, “Hey, I figured something out. I’ve got a piece of the puzzle. I have to go give this piece of the puzzle to as many people as possible.” In the arts, there’s the whole suffering for your art idea, and when I realized that I actually made better art when I didn’t suffer, I was like, “I have to tell everyone. Give me the microphone or the soapbox. I have to share.” Being a creative person and making art professionally is not just a career, but it’s a lifestyle. And this is an important time in the broader national conversation about self-care and mental health and stress, where I thought, “Okay. We’re having this big national conversation, but let me sit up straight for the theater department and say, here’s how we can do that. And here’s how we can make good, safe, compelling art.”

Q: What’s something special that you bring to the classroom?

CC: I’ve come straight out of [the] central theater-making [city] in the country. New York City is such a hub. And so I hope I can be a resource to students who are looking at a professional option, wondering what the hustle is like, and [wanting] professional connections in the entertainment world. I’m really inspired by the degree of theory that happens in the department here. We talk a lot about the “why” of theatre, and if I can marry the “why” with the “how,” that’s absolutely fireworks to me.

Q: What do you want to do after Reed?

CC: I’m hoping that my time here at Reed is a great way to figure out what kind of educator I am. I feel this sense of wanting to share and help and engage. Right now, a collegiate classroom feels like the right way to do that, but these are two years of discovery. I will be making costumes for the rest of my life, but my time here at Reed will certainly inform what kind of environments I walk into after leaving here.

Q: What advice do you have for your students?

CC: There’s this line in artists’ education that says, “You’re new. You’re young. Just say yes.” And I think young artists should get into it, jump in the pool, get dirty, get in there, but there’s something in that educational idea that also teaches us to devalue ourselves. There’s ways to work for free without underselling yourself. There’s ways to do favors. There’s ways to jump in. And remember that you’re a human and an artist and you’re valuable.

Photo by Clarissa Lam

Photo by Clarissa Lam

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