Collaboration in Action

by Porsche McGovern
Valérie Thérèse Bart
Valérie Thérèse Bart

I met Valérie Thérèse Bart through the wonders of the Internet. She is a costume and scenic designer. She is a proud self-proclaimed Franco-VietnAmericaine. She attended UCLA for undergrad and then the Yale School of Drama. She credits a 2-week intensive workshop, entitled “The Collaborative Process: Directors and Designers” taught by Ming Cho Lee and Constance Hoffman through a summer program at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for opening her eyes to the power of the conversation, the true essence of collaboration. She has designed at numerous regional theaters as well as off-Broadway. Bart designs for Opera and Theater.

Selected costume design credits include Doll’s House Part 2 (Actors Theatre Louisville), Vietgone (Denver Center), Rocking Horse Winner / Vinkensport (Opera Saratoga), Fidelio (Heartbeat Opera),You Are Here (Goodspeed),Rigoletto (Minnesota Opera), The Great Leap (Denver Center / Seattle Rep),The Invisible Hand (Cleveland Play House), Too Heavy for Your Pocket (Roundabout), Vanity Fair (Pearl Theatre), Butterfly (Heartbeat Opera), The Servant of Two Masters (TFANA, Seattle Rep, Guthrie, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Yale Rep), Twelfth Night and What You Will (Bedlam, Central Square Theatre), Macbeth (Acting Company).

Selected sets and costume design credits include Listen, Wilhelmina! (Wolf Trap), Tina Packer’s Women of Will (Nat’l/Int’l Tour),She, After (Urban Arias). Selected scenic design include POP! (Yale Rep). M.F.A. Yale University School of Drama. valeriebart.com

"Too Heavy for Your Pocket" World Premiere by Jiréh Breon Holder Directed by Margot Bordelon Scenic Design by Reid Thompson Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart Lighting Design by Ji-youn Chang Sound Design by Ian Scot Photo by Joan Marcus Roundabout Theatre
Too Heavy for Your Pocket by Jiréh Breon Holder. Directed by Margot Bordelon at Roundabout Theatre. Scenic Design by Reid Thompson. Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart. Lighting Design by Ji-youn Chang. Sound Design by Ian Scot. Photo by Joan Marcus. 

How has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?
I’m not sure about directly harming, but for me personally, my background made it more difficult. I’m the immigrant daughter of Vietnamese refugees so we were taught the value of hard work because we came from nothing. Because of that, I always felt “behind” and that I needed to try twice as hard to catch up to everyone else. And you don’t realize how hard it was until you look at other people’s journeys, which seem easier and privileged.  

As far as helping, I feel like it’s given me a bit of a leg up. Diversity’s such a hot button topic. I’ve asked and been asked to be on the creative teams for shows that represent POC experiences. I think it’s also helped to be a woman, as more places look to gender parity. I have yet to feel like I’m being “pigeon-holed” as that POC designer that only does POC shows. Regardless, I am glad to be included in the conversation.       

But I’m inspired when looking into the future. When you’ve been instilled with working so hard, and seeing your parents working so hard, you feel compelled to pay it forward. You owe it to the next generation, to make it just a little less hard.

"Pop!" Book and Lyrics by Maggie-Kate Coleman Music by Anna K. Jacobs Musical Direction by Lynne Shankel Direction by Mark Brokaw Choreography by Denis Jones Scenic Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart Costume Design by Ying Song Lighting Design by Kevin Adams Projection Design by Tal Yarden Sound Design by David Budries Orchestration by Bruce Coughlin Production Dramaturgy by Catherine Sheehy Photo by Rick Ngoc Ho.
POP! Book and Lyrics by Maggie-Kate Coleman. Music by Anna K. Jacobs. Musical Direction by Lynne Shankel. Direction by Mark Brokaw at Yale Repertory Theatre. Choreography by Denis Jones. Scenic Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart. Costume Design by Ying Song. Lighting Design by Kevin Adams. Projection Design by Tal Yarden. Sound Design by David Budries. Orchestration by Bruce Coughlin. Production Dramaturgy by Catherine Sheehy. Photo by Rick Ngoc Ho.

   

 

How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?
Growing up, we did not have access to the arts. But I always felt destined for the arts. As a child, I wanted to dance and draw and play an instrument, but I had no outlet. My parents worked all the time so everything I wanted, I had to do for myself. My parents were supportive, but could not financially help me. I paid my way through college with one to three jobs and financial aid. I’m grateful for all these experiences, because it’s something I can be really proud of—that I put myself here.  

"The Invisible Hand" by Ayad Akhtar Directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh Scenic Design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart Lighting Design by Michael Boll Sound Design by Daniel Perelstein Photo by Roger Mastroianni Cleveland Play House
The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar. Directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh at Cleveland Play House. Scenic Design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams. Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart. Lighting Design by Michael Boll. Sound Design by Daniel Perelstein. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

What would you like people of color considering or in the early stages of a theatre career to know?  Is there any advice you wish you'd be given?
Networking is very important.  Who you know and who knows you is so important. After I graduated, seeing shows really helped me, both to give me a reference and something to talk about with other collaborators and would-be collaborators.The world is small. One of my professors at Yale once said in class that designing in this industry is like a marathon, who can last the longest, doing the work in these conditions for this pay, who can sustain the lifestyle the longest. If you’re the last person standing, you’ll get the jobs. It’s a bit sad and mostly true. 

Along with networking is also seeking out allies—people that will champion diversity, equity and inclusion. Support them and they will support you, the word will be amplified and your work will get out there.   

"The Servant of Two Masters" Written by Carlo Goldoni Adapted by Constance Congdon Further Adapted by Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp Directed by Christopher Bayes Scenic Design by Katherine Akiko Day Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart Lighting Design by Chuan-Chi Chan Music by Aaron Halva and Christopher Curtis Sound Design by Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes Photo by Richard Termine Yale Repertory Theatre
The Servant of Two Masters Written by Carlo Goldoni, Adapted by Constance Congdon, Further Adapted by Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp. Directed by Christopher Bayes at Yale Repertory Theatre. Scenic Design by Katherine Akiko Day. Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart. Lighting Design by Chuan-Chi Chan. Music by Aaron Halva and Christopher Curtis. Sound Design by Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes. Photo by Richard Termine.

Who was a role model of yours in your respective field?
I tend to find inspiration in all things. I don’t know of a single person I look up to for inspiration because they are so many things. Part of what I love doing is research. It takes me to places unknown and gives me knowledge and information on various topics, persons, histories, and cultures I may not otherwise seek out. I discover artists anew, architecture, photographers, street styles and save them for future reference in my growing digital resource library.

"The Great Leap" World Premiere by Lauren Yee Directed by Eric Ting Scenic Design by Wilson Chin Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart Lighting Design by Christopher Kuhl Sound Design by Curtis Craig Projection Design by Shawn Duan Photo by Adams VisCom Denver Center / Seattle Rep
The Great Leap by Lauren Yee. Directed by Eric Ting at Denver Center and Seattle Rep. Scenic Design by Wilson Chin. Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart. Lighting Design by Christopher Kuhl. Sound Design by Curtis Craig. Projection Design by Shawn Duan. Photo by Adams VisCom. 

Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?
The people in my class at Yale was surprisingly very diverse—out of 13 members, 7 were Asians, 1 was half Asian, 1 was Mexican. Being surrounded by this much diversity—which in a way was a privilege given our current environment, I think really helped in defining the kinds of people I like to work and thrive with. I seek out and relish in these opportunities where I know there will be other allies in the room.       

"Vanity Fair" World Premiere by Kate Hamill Directed by Eric Tucker Scenic Design by Sandra Goldmark Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart Lighting Design by Seth Reiser Sound Design by Matthew Fischer Photo by Russ Rowland Pearl Theatre Company
Vanity Fair by Kate Hamill. Directed by Eric Tucker at Pearl Theatre Company. Scenic Design by Sandra Goldmark. Costume Design by Valérie Thérèse Bart. Lighting Design by Seth Reiser. Sound Design by Matthew Fischer. Photo by Russ Rowland. 

Does your process change whether you’re designing costumes or scenery or both?  If yes, how?
The process is the same, the research might be different. But in the end, it is all about the conversation and collaboration.  

Primarily I do costumes, but I’m a costume designer who likes to design sets. And I wish I did more scenic design. You fall into a category and that’s how people see you, and they may not see another side. I’ve been so focused on getting work, so I’ve concentrated on costumes since I’m most comfortable and experienced there. There are a few directors who have had me design both, on smaller shows, so I hope that will continue!

I went into grad school as a costume designer. Ming Cho Lee inspired me to do scenery as well, to look at the entire visual story, the whole world, not just the people that populate it. I like to truly collaborate and getting to know the other designers. We’re all putting this thing together on this stage, and it has to be cohesive. Collaboration has to be a conversation so I’m not shy in bringing up ideas to the scenic designer or asking for some adjustments from the lighting designer. On the flip side, I expect the same of my collaborators and that they would bring up issues or ideas they see with costumes.