Story by Yesenia Gonzalez, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Every journey starts somewhere. For Rose State Theatre alumnus Paul Kim, his journey into the world of theatre began at the Atkinson Theatre in 2005. Although Kim began college with an interest in marketing, the stage beckoned and he answered.
“I didn’t have a major,” Kim said. “Actually I wasn’t expecting to go to college, but I had this distant family member who was visiting us in Oklahoma and he said, ‘you live a couple blocks away from college, why don’t you take a college class’.”
Prior to attending Rose State, Kim worked in productions with Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City and Pollard Theatre in Guthrie. However, Kim did not know then where his educational path would lead him.
“I met with [Rose State Professor] Rick Nelson. We had this discussion and he really inspired me in the fact that I could go on with my education,” Kim said.
Kim chose to take the plunge and pursue his interest in theatre. “I remember that specific motto [for Rose State], ‘Finish what you start’,” Kim said. “I remember that popping up in my head and remembering, ‘Let me try this. If I fail, let me fail.’”
Theatre Professor Rick Nelson worked closely with Kim during his time at Rose State.
“Paul’s ability to tackle any task with 100 percent dedication [is his most memorable attribute],” Nelson said. “If he didn’t understand something, he would ask. He rarely asked twice because shortly after understanding something, he mastered it. He was the first student designer I had at Rose who costume designed a show.”
Rose State Theatre offered training in various production aspects and Kim originally focused on acting because it was the focus of the department. However, Kim narrowed his focus once he found his niche.
“When I dabbled in costume, that’s what I decided to go into it,” Kim said. Kim attributed some of his interest in costuming to his fascination with the costumes he saw in the movies from his childhood.
During his time at Rose State, Kim worked on many different plays, but two came to mind as being especially memorable: “Almost, Maine” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”
Kim enjoyed working on Brighton Beach Memoirs, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age play by Neil Simon set in 1937, because it exercised his knowledge of the time period and challenged his skills as a costume designer.
Nelson directed “Almost, Maine” and Kim learned to, “... pick [the director’s] brain to see how he envisions the character,” a skill he carries with him to this day.
“One of the plays I did enjoy was ‘Almost, Maine,’ Kim said. “It was because each scene was a different setting, a different story; I loved seeing the different way that each story can capture someone’s heart. It really is a little play about love.”
After striking the Rose State stage, Kim continued his education at the University of Oklahoma where he majored in costume design. Directly after OU, Kim began his time as a graduate student in the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. Kim chose to settle in Chicago, where he currently works.
After finding himself in the giant that is the Chicago theatre world, Kim initially struggled to find his voice in a sea of costume designers.
“It’s really about how to find myself as a specific designer without having any stereotypes attached to me,” Kim said.
Kim likened costume designing to a business, where designers invest a lot of time and money into producing a final product. A common struggle is for designers to get stuck in a creative rut and only being able to design costumes for specific genres or time periods. Kim described himself as a jack-ofall-trades and tackles a variety of plays.
According to Kim, theatre is often seen as something only the wealthy can enjoy. Kim disagrees with that sentiment.
“When people think about theatre when the word first comes up, theatre is for the rich,” Kim said. “That theatre can only be enjoyed and produced by the wealthy, but I have to disagree with that because theatre can happen anywhere. I really learned that from Rose State.”
During his time at Rose State, Kim and his friends performed in various venues, including the courtyard outside of the Atkinson Theatre where they performed a skit to raise awareness about domestic violence. It attracted people in the surrounding areas on campus and brought people together to enjoy an act of storytelling.
“Theatre can blossom anywhere,” Kim said.
Kim’s Jefferson Award win was an unexpected and welcome surprise.
“So I have been out here in Chicago for about a year and a half freelancing,” Kim said. “I guess I was just focusing on paying [my] dues, trying to get into the Chicago world. It has over 2,000 theatres and has a huge and old theatre community here. It is very well known for new work, new plays. I really wasn’t trying to put myself into work that could potentially be award-winning, I wasn’t even thinking about that at all.”
Kim won a 2018 Joseph Jefferson Award. The award recognizes equity (unionized) and non-equity (non-unionized) theatre, talent in the Chicago area. Kim’s award recognized his work in midsize costume design in the equity category for his work on the play The Explorer’s Club with the Citadel Theatre. The play is set in late 19th-century London where a woman attempts to join a male-only scientist club and faces opposition while proving her worth as a member.
Kim attended the ceremony at the Drury Lane Theatre, where Kim felt at home with the other nominees who shared his passion for theatre. After doing freelance work for only a year, Kim was both surprised and excited by his win.
“I literally felt like I was in one of those Oscar award-winning moments,” Kim said. “It was a dream; it really was a dream. I feel it has carried me on to loving even harder, the work that I am doing.”
Initially, Kim did not know what path to take in the great stage of life. With help from mentors and listening to his own inner voice, he followed his passion and achieved a spotlight win.
Paul Kim was the circulation manager at the 15th Street News during his time at Rose State.