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April 2015


All the men and women merely players: Andy Wittkamper
William Burns


andy wittkamper
Andy Wittkamper of the theater arts department (photo by Clarita Love, theater PA)

Colleen Atwood observed that “costumes are the first impression that you have of the character before they open their mouth—it really does establish who they are.”

Andrew Wittkamper, professor of theatre on the Ammerman campus, brings the excitement and artistry of stage craft to his classes and to the countless productions that have graced SCCC.

Andrew started at Suffolk in fall 2001, bringing his extensive professional experiences to the college. He worked for several years in professional shops, building new costumes for the Broadway productions of Cats, The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, some films, and a lot of Disney theme park parades. With extensive training in dressmaking, tailoring, and patterning, Andrew was well suited to the work, and it was thrilling to be part of something destined for Broadway or the Magic Kingdom.

After a while the luster began to dull, as the daily grind began to wear on him. Having earned an MFA in costume design from the University of Massachusetts, Andrew wanted a position that was worthy of the full expanse of his training, provided opportunities for growth and would enable him to have more financial freedom than ten dollars per hour would permit. Luckily, Andrew received a call from his graduate mentor, offering him the position of visiting lecturer at the University of Massachusetts to teach and advise students. Andrew commuted between Franklin Square, NY, and Northampton, MA, in order to teach a 300-level costume design course and mentor the MFA candidates. Building on his previous teaching experiences, Andrew found his professional niche working with students and applied for the position of costume designer in the theatre arts department at SCCC, a position he has held for the last 14 years.

Hired at the instructor level Andrew had the responsibilities of teaching an introductory costume construction course and a team-taught production lab course as well as designing the department's four main stage productions each year. Since that time Andrew incorporated design, history, and writing assignments into the costume course, and have added a stage makeup course and regular independent studies to his teaching load. Andrew has designed costumes for close to seventy productions. Some plays may have required only three costumes, while others over one hundred, but taken together Andrew has worked with well over 2000 costumes since his first semester. He also manages the costume shop in the Islip Arts building, two extensively stocked costume storage vaults (one on campus and one off) and the four dressing rooms above the Shea Theater.

For Andrew the study of theatre is a serious pursuit that only the most serious student can hope to succeed at. It starts with respect: respect for the work, respect for self. Some of Andrew’s students accept this lesson at face value, while others must learn it the hard way through trial and error. A failed test, an unfinished design project or a poor acting performance can all be symptoms of failing to respect the discipline. Andrew’s first goal is to ennoble the study of the theatre arts to the students in his charge. Establishing standards, inspiring the pursuit of perfection and bestowing the responsibility of advancing the art form are always first in his mind.

Though Andrew loves all of his classes, his favorite is Stage Makeup, a course he created in spring 2009. The course has been a smash hit and fills every semester with a variety of majors and non-majors. The non-major interest in this course came as a huge surprise to him. It's gratifying to know that the course has been well-received across the student body, and many of the students Andrew taught have gone on to work in the field or in related artistic disciplines. For example, one of his former students currently works at MAC as a makeup artist, another attended The Makeup Designory (MUD) and now works freelance and a third moved to Las Vegas to train as a jeweler and goldsmith. Meeting these amazing students and helping them, in some small way, along their various career paths has been a great inspiration to Andrew. It is the small, everyday victories in class, when students report that they never realized how complex and time consuming costume construction can be—and find that they are equal to the task—are the moments he lives for.

Andrew is a rabid history buff, devouring TV shows like The Tudors, Downton Abbey, Rome and The Borgias to see if the costumes are historically accurate. He would love to teach a dedicated class on the history of costume and would also like to continue exploring puppetry and devised theatre, as he did with The Icarus Project in the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters. In terms of adding to his pedagogy, Andrew is considering creating instructional videos for class projects (uploaded to YouTube) so that students can independently review the various steps in making a corset, sculpting a mask or painting a costume sketch.

At SCCC, we ask our students to play many roles, and you can be assured that Andrew Wittkamper will be there to make sure they are exquisitely prepared to go out onto the world stage.