Dr. Joyce F. Brown, president of the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) and American Theatre Wing chairman Isabelle Stevenson hosted a May 25 luncheon to announce the creation of the Zipprodt Awards, which will honor the late three-time Tony winning costume designer, Patricia Zipprodt.
The two costume design awards will honor lifetime achievement and best of Broadway season winners. The award winners will be chosen by a committee comprising Tony winner David Sadler, fashion designer Donald Brooks, ATW's Isabelle Stevenson, and two F.I.T. faculty members.
The first Zipprodt Awards will be presented in May 2001. F.I.T. will administer and present the awards annually, as part of a long-term program to raise the college's profile within the Broadway community, to generate creative interest in the college's academic program to provide Broadway with new talent, and to build support for a separate major capital campaign to update and expand the F.I.T. campus.
The Broadway connection is being made on several levels. "We're right next door to Broadway," Brown says, pointing to the geographic proximity of the fashion and Broadway industries.
"We have a broad reach into the creative industry and to the businesses that support them," Brown added. "Our students are extraordinarily talented in a number of ways." Brown sought out theatre support from ATW's Isabelle Stevenson and Hodge Taylor Productions' Terry Hodge Taylor to stage the May 25 kick off for the awards program. The choice of Patricia Zipprodt as the award's namesake was doubly fortunate for F.I.T. The school claims Zipprodt as a 1953 alum and the late designer (who passed away last year) continues to command the highest respect from theatre luminaries.
On hand at the May 25 announcement of the awards were several theatre stars who shared their experiences with Zipprodt. Mistress of Ceremonies Rosemary Harris anchored the event and spoke about Zipprodt's career and her influence on Broadway.
Zipprodt's career as a costume designer was frequently punctuated with Tony Awards and nominations. She took three Tony awards for costume design, for Fiddler on the Roof ('65), Cabaret ('67) and for Sweet Charity ('86). Her costume design Tony nominations include Zorba ('69), Pippin ('73), Mack and Mabel ('75), Chicago ('76), Alice in Wonderland ('83), Sunday in the Park with George ('84) and Shogun: The Musical ('91).
Joel Grey took time off to attend the May 25 event. He spoke to the group of 100 theatre professionals about being a close friend of Zipprodt's, whom he called by the initials "PZ" from the time they worked together on Cabaret right through her battle with cancer.
Marian Seldes recalled working with Zipprodt and said, "When I was with her, I always felt that I looked like the seamstress and that she was what I believed an actress should look like."
Zipprodt's sister, Connie Zonka, told Playbill On-Line that while her sister did not know of the awards program, her family felt that it was welcome recognition.
Behind the scenes, F.I.T.'s Dr. Brown said that her college has strong courses in theatre, costume design, fashion history, fashion design and theatrical costuming. Brown said the college's programs "deal with the context of the period and history" and that to succeed, "a costume has to speak to the audience before words are exchanged."
Long range, F.I.T. also seeks to expand its curriculum, establish a theatre collection and explore joint programs with sister colleges in the State system, such as SUNY Purchase, which could share its set design facilities and programs with F.I.T.
Another award honoring costume design, named for Irene Sharaff, is given out every year in the spring.
-- By Murdoch McBride