Women's Impact Report: Specialists
It’s nice to win a Tony Award. It’s even nicer to win a few over a lifetime. It is, however, unprecedented to nab four consecutive Tonys in the same discipline. But that’s just what costume designer Catherine Zuber has pulled off — snagging top honors for this year’s “South Pacific.” (Previous wins were for “The Coast of Utopia,” “Awake and Sing” and “The Light in the Piazza.”) Zuber never imagined any of it. “I was shocked when I won one,” she says.
That said, odds on a consecutive fifth are slim to none, as Zuber says she hasn’t taken on a Rialto show next season. She’s in Europe, designing “Romeo et Juliette” at the Salzburg Festival. When she returns in August, she’s got two shows on the docket: “Doctor Atomic” for the Metropolitan Opera and the Roundabout’s Broadway revival of “A Man for All Seasons.”
The London-born Zuber began designing professionally in 1984 after graduating from the Yale School of Drama. Her family immigrated from the U.K. to Queens when she was 9. When she opens her mouth, it’s Queens English, not the Queen’s English.
“It’s a very artistic pursuit,” she says of costume design. “It combines building on what has already been discovered but being creative and thinking of new ways to look at the world.”
Zuber is careful to limit her projects to those she can devote adequate time to, given that the design process can stretch beyond weeks into months. Still, she’s often working on three or four projects at a time. When she’s not working, you’ll find her watching old Hollywood movies of the Preston Sturges variety or lying on a beach devouring a French novel.
Role model: “My teacher in costume design: Jane Greenwood.”
Three things in life I can’t do without: “Freedom, beauty, great conversation.”
What I’m reading now: “‘Cousin Bette’ by Balzac. Most of the pop French writers are so cinematic in their storytelling.”
Most important issue facing Americans in this election year: “I’m an Obama supporter. … The right leadership in America can hopefully influence how the world is growing as a global community.”
Career mantra: “The visionary is the only true realist.”