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Meet Victoria Nicolette Gist

Today we’d like to introduce you to Victoria Nicolette Gist.

Victoria, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
How much time do we have? Ha. The full story is a bit involved and a bit twisty, but I’ll try to be succinct.

I was born in Houston, and my first interactions with theatre were right here. I was a big reader as a kid, so when I would go to Main Street Theater’s children series for class field trips and see stories that I loved come to life onstage I soared. My parents will tell you that I’ve always been very theatrical, and I’ll admit I caught the acting bug had core – I went to theatre camps, I joined speech & debate, I auditioned for every high school show.

I went to Baylor University for my BFA in Theatre Performance, and that’s where I caught the design bug. Even as an actor, I felt very attached to costumes. Every show I would have this moment when I felt I finally connected with my character, when I literally stepped into their shoes. My character could be any multitude of people, but in costume, suddenly they were clear. My first semester of undergrad I took Costume Elements, an introductory course and a requirement for all Theatre Majors. This would be my rabbit hole. I began seeing shows through a different lens, appreciating a world that always enticed me but that I didn’t understand until now. The storyteller inside me broke free when I found costumes. It was like another language, and I couldn’t stop speaking it. However, I still loved acting, so, rather than switch degree plans, I simply took up as many costume courses as possible as electives. I also began assistant designing and eventually designing mainstage productions and films.

Upon graduating, I knew I would eventually want an MFA, but I just couldn’t bring myself to prioritize which passion I’d pursue – designing or acting. I decided I would hold off on my master’s, pursue both, and hope that I’d find my path eventually. Once my husband finished his own master’s degree, we both moved to Connecticut and I began commuting into New York City, working as an Assistant Pattern Maker. It was very inspiring: I was able to observe talented designers, meet gifted talent, and learn from insightful technicians. After some time, I realized that I really missed designing and I had fallen out of love with performing, so I knew it was finally time to start looking into graduate school. I wound up full circle back in Houston, TX, right where it all began. My first local designs were at the University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance as part of my degree plan, but eventually I started working at other theatres in town as well.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I will say, not having a clear plan after undergrad was very scary for me. I love having a plan. I love my planner. I love calendars and syllabi and expectations. But I didn’t have anything lined up after my first summer stock. When we moved to Connecticut, a friend of mine happened to be working at a shop in NYC, and they happened to need extra hands. It was very much a story of right time, right place. So much of theatre is like that, at least in my experience – that and networking. Getting established in an area is so important, but so tricky. We as designers thrive off of our reputations as good collaborators; good work on one job can lead to another job and another and another. So being a young, hungry designer in a new place can be a struggle for sure.

Of course, the Coronavirus pandemic has created struggles for a lot of us, theatre practitioners and beyond, and many of my productions scheduled for this year have been either postponed or cancelled outright. We had a gorgeous production of Romeo & Juliet being produced at the University of Houston that I don’t think I’ll ever see finished. I was working on Rec Room’s current season and we had to hold off on two of our four shows. My final capstone for grad school, a new piece called Innominate produced with my collaborators Afsaneh Aayani and Addie Pawlick, has been postponed until this fall at earliest, requiring a change of venue. It’s all very hard and disheartening. As a young designer, every opportunity is so important, and you can get very attached to these stories you want to tell. It’s hard to be in limbo with them. But I would encourage any patrons of the arts in Houston to support local theatres in any way possible during this hard time. Eventually, the curtains will rise again, and they need your support now more than ever.

Please tell us about your work.
I am a freelance designer specializing in costumes for stage and film. My work is in direct relationship with the audience, offering insight into the characters onstage and the world they inhabit. In many ways, I’m a storyteller – one who creates a tangible, visual bridge into the world that the director has envisioned via collaboration and creativity. Beyond that, I think the most important thing for me to keep in mind as a designer is to be authentic to the story at hand. My process is grounded in detailed exploration of the material through both text analysis and visual research. Of all design elements, few are interacted with as intimately by actors as costumes, and I find having an impact on something so intimate very empowering. Of course, I’m proud of every show I do for very different, unique reasons, but if I had to pick some of my proudest moments, designing The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls at UH was a highlight of my career so far, as was designing The Hard Problem at Main Street Theater. As a young woman who grew up visiting the old Chelsea Market location, designing for MST was a huge moment.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I’ll be graduating this month, and with the current pandemic, a lot is very uncertain for me. However, I have some exciting shows lined up that I hope to return to as soon as can safely be done. I’ll be back in Connecticut shortly, but I’ve been volunteering with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for over ten years despite being out of state, so you can still count on seeing me around. Houston is very much home to me and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” renderings courtesy of Victoria Nicolette Gist; “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” production imagery courtesy of Paige Willson; “The Hard Problem” renderings courtesy of Victoria Nicolette Gist; “The Hard Problem” production imagery courtesy of John Lienhard; “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” production imagery courtesy of Paige Willson

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