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Meghan Raham – Alumni Spotlight – Design & Technology

I’m a firm believer in the liberal arts education, largely because it is what allowed me to find my way to doing the thing that I love. I’ve always been engaged and curious, but I wasn’t the type of person who really knew what I wanted to “do” at a young age, or going into college. I needed the room to explore things I was drawn to– I was almost an english, philosophy, art, or graphic design major, and I took some time off sometimes (I was also working at least one job while in school). It was during one of those breaks that I wound up getting involved with a theater group in Buffalo and realizing that theater was an amalgam of all of the other almost-majors that I had been. When I went back to UB, I started taking physical theater classes: mime, clown, street theater. I was curious about costume design, and had to take “Visual Imagination” with Cathy Norgren as a pre-requisite before I could get in. “Visual Imagination” changed my life. I was fascinated by the way the language of visual composition relates to written and spoken language; the foundation of designing for the stage. When I took costume design the following semester or year, Cathy suggested that I design the costumes for that season’s production of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. I really had no idea what that meant, or what I was supposed to do, but Cathy said, “I know I’m throwing you in the deep end, but you’ll be fine. And I have a life raft if you need it.” I’ll never forget the feeling I had on the first day of technical rehearsals, when the first chorus of men came onstage and looked like I had imagined them (in my mind!) months earlier… and there they were, happening, in front of me. It was exhilarating and terrifying and wonderful. I graduated in 2002 and went on to graduate school at Northwestern University in Chicago for costume design; while there I also became really interested in set design and began pursuing it. I wound up assisting one of my scenic design professors, Dan Ostling, for a number of years after I finished school while also freelancing in Chicago and around the country and building experience and a portfolio as both a costume and scenic designer. That time assisting was like a second graduate program in a sense; or maybe like a classical apprenticeship– I learned a ton but gained a lot of professional experience at the same time.

In 2010, I was appointed assistant professor of design at American University in Washington, DC, and I’ve been based here since. I love teaching, and am working to develop the design and production track. The year I started, we had a visiting Fulbright Scholar from the Czech Republic, Mirenka Cechova, who is a physical theatre artist with whom I found a kindred artistic spirit. We created a piece together last year called “S/he is Nancy Joe” that premiered in Prague and has traveled here to DC and around Europe since– and just won a Herald Angel award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I still do a lot of freelance work, and feel lucky to have carved out a community of really extraordinary collaborators.

My time at UB really allowed me to carve my own path, and be supported in that endeavor by professors– Cathy Norgren in particular– who saw my strengths and weaknesses clearly and were able to help me build on the strengths and strengthen the weaknesses.

-Meghan Raham