In Memoriam: Katherine “Kitty” Leech

by Jacob Coakley

Katherine “Kitty” LeechKatherine “Kitty” Leech, a costume designer, illustrator and faculty member in the Department of Drama at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts passed away July 15. Leech was first hired at Tisch School of the Arts in 1986. Two years later, Leech, Chris Jaehnig, Gregg Barnes, Steve Brownless and Chris Van Zant created the Tech Track Studio in the Department of Drama, where she remained as an associate teacher at the time of her death. Leech was most proud of her work for Cinderella / Cendrillon with Anne Bogart and Gross Indecency: the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Leech also taught at the Playwrights Horizon’s Theatre School, Parson’s School of Design, and had been a guest lecturer at Pratt Institute of Design and Lincoln Center Theatre, among others.  She was an active member in the professional community, having served as Chair of the IATSE Costume Design Exam committee, the Chair of the TDF Costume Collection Advisory Committee, and the Chair of the Irene Sharaff Young Master Award Committee.

Here is the full text of a letter from Allyson Green, dean of Tisch School of the Arts, with more details about Leech:

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that Kitty Leech, faculty member from the Department of Drama, passed away on Wednesday evening. Kitty was a Design for Stage & Film alumna (MFA, ’83), and a long-serving and devoted faculty member in the Tisch community. Her many creative accomplishments brought joy and beauty into this world. She will be deeply missed.

Kitty was a wonderful costume designer, illustrator, photographer, and proud teacher. She was first hired at Tisch School of the Arts in 1986. Two years later, Kitty, Chris Jaehnig, Gregg Barnes, Steve Brownless, and Chris Van Zant created the Tech Track Studio in the Department of Drama. For the next decade, Kitty and Gregg designed and built all of the large shows in Drama, and for those she didn’t personally design, she built or personally mentored the students who did. That’s well over 150 productions. She was also an Associate Teacher leading courses in costume design, figure drawing, and costume history, and served as an advisor in the Gallatin School. Each spring, Kitty, along with her sister and niece, held the Project Onstage that allowed our students to show off their design skills.

Kitty was most proud of her work for Cinderella / Cendrillon with Anne Bogart and Gross Indecency: the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde at the Minetta Lane Theatre as well as the productions in San Francisco, Toronto, Plymouth, England and London’s West End. Other design credits included Waiting for Green, a collaboration between Annie B. Parson and Ethel String Quartet at the World Financial Center in New York City and Imprints on a Landscape: The Mining Project for the Liz Lerman Dance exchange in Washington DC. Notable Off-Broadway credits include The Novelist, A Romantic Portrait of Jane Austen by Howard Fast, and Goblin Market at the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre (Downtown) for which she received a Hewes Design Award nomination. For eight years she was the resident costume designer for the Lyrics and Lyricists concert series at the 92nd St. Y. She designed costumes for numerous Off and Off-Off Broadway theatres, as well as for Republic National Bank at the Big Apple Circus, Banker’s Trust, and People magazine. Other international credits include work for The Almeida Theatre, London, Carnavale in Venezia, Festivale Inteatro in Polverigi, Italy, the Via, and Exit Festivals in France and The Edinburgh Festival.

Her sketches have been shown at the Susan Teller Gallery in Soho, New York, Greenberg and Hammer Inc 57th St., NYC and at the Cosmopolitan Club in Philadelphia, as well as in various exhibitions around the country. One of her sketches was awarded the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Curator’s Choice at the San Francisco Print Fair. Kitty’s photographs were seen Off-Broadway, in Black Masks magazine, in the on-line exhibits of Here is New York, World Stage Design, and in numerous NYU locations, publications, and websites.  She wrote The Mermaid Picnic and created The Dollies, a series of books and calendars.

Kitty also taught at the Playwrights Horizon’s Theatre School, Parson’s School of Design, and had been a guest lecturer at Pratt Institute of Design and Lincoln Center Theatre, among others.  She was an active member in the professional community, having served as Chair of the IATSE Costume Design Exam committee, the Chair of the TDF Costume Collection Advisory Committee, and the Chair of the Irene Sharaff Young Master Award Committee. She was a member of the board of directors of the Mid Manhattan Performing Arts Foundation and New York Women in Film and Television.

My heartfelt condolences go out to Kitty’s family, her loved ones, and to her many friends and colleagues here at Tisch and in the performing arts community. I am so grateful for Kitty’s devoted service to this school, for the countless beautiful designs she created, for her generous and warm spirit, and for the lasting impact she has made on our students for so many years.

With sorrow,
Allyson Green
Dean, Tisch School of the Arts

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