Ms. Rebecca Britton: Education by Design

Ms. Rebecca Britton, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance, is in her 30th year in the College of Arts & Sciences. She specializes in Theatre Design and Technology, which includes costume design, costume technology (mask making, hat making, and pattern development), and stage makeup.
Her biggest accomplishment to date has been developing her department’s Costume Design and Technology program. When she first arrived on campus, costume design was housed in the basement of the Seaman’s Bethel—then the University’s theatre, and now the headquarters of the Honors College. Theatre and Dance has been housed with the Department of Music in the Laidlaw Performing Arts Building for many years. According to Britton, “Today [at Laidlaw] we have a full Costume Shop with nine sewing stations equipped with Bernina sewing machines, as well as three industrial sewing machines, two cutting tables, two industrial irons, a small but working craft area and laundry/dye room.”
Each fall semester, Britton teaches her favorite class, Makeup.  She says students in this class learn “everything from very basic glamour looks, to 20th century period styles (the 1920’s vs 1930’s, 1940’s etc.,), to “blood, guts, and gore (which usually hits around Halloween, of course).”
Britton did not go to college with the plan of a career in University Theatre. Instead, she planned on being a music teacher. Her career goals shifted when she accompanied a friend to a play audition and, unexpectedly, was cast for the production (her friend was not). This unanticipated role changed her life. According to Britton, “Theatre became my passion. It fit everything I loved: performing, creating, history, music, and literature.” After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Britton earned her M.F.A. at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. There, she was the program’s first M.F.A. Costume Design candidate.
Students who get cast for a play at USA have compressed amount of time to prepare for the first performance. Those who will work under Britton’s supervision learn a host of skills such as sewing by hand and with a machine. The basic domestic sewing machines offer a stage for learning multiple stitches; the industrial sewing machines are designed for single purposes such as industrial straight stitch or blind hem stitch. Students also learn basic pattern development that deals with flat as well as with draping methods. For some productions, students must learn millinery (hat making), mask making that requires a wide variety of materials, and the making of jewelry or armor.
In reflecting on the strengths of USA’s Theatre and Dance majors, Britton says “Most of the good theatre majors bring a drive or passion with them. They are creative and intellectually curious. They are also problem solvers who can think outside of the box, make intuitive leaps in their thought processes. Most people think students who want to major in theatre are looking for an easy degree. While that may be true for some, I can tell you students like that don’t usually stay the course and graduate.”
Britton has been involved in approximately 100 shows while at USA. Favorites of hers include MacBeth, The School for Scandal, The Little Mermaid, The Addams Family, Metamorphoses,Seussical, and The Rivals. Of all of the shows, however, Britton singles out the musical Children of Eden as her favorite.
Over the next five years, Britton hopes to produce an “undergraduate text for Period Styles that will work for both Costume and Scenic designers and technicians.” She says “The existing texts tend to be more heavily architecture and décor related with minimal clothing or vice versa. Many are extremely generalized and simplistic while others deal only with a specific era.”
In addition to her love of theatre, Britton is passionate about music and interior design. She loves to cook and to read fantasy and mystery novels, and she is a Trekkie.  Cats are also a love of hers. Indeed, she has a 14 year-old gray tabby, O’Reilly, and a 9 year-old gray long-haired princess named Lilly. According to Britton, “There is nothing like the look a cat can give you to keep you grounded and put you back in your place.”