Arts News: Influential National Design Portfolio Review, founded by UMKC’s Tom Mardikes, enters its 13th Year

Scene designer Chris Barecca, NDPR vice president, visiting with UCSD presenter Daniella Toscano. Daniella now teaches costume design at UMKC. (NDPR)

On May 25 the National Design Portfolio Review will be held at New York’s historic Bohemian National Hall. Founded in 2011 by Tom Mardikes, UMKC professor of theatre sound design, the NDPR presents talented theatrical designers from the country’s finest graduate programs and connects them with established designers, directors and producers.

“Reputations get formed,” says Mardikes. “We learn from each other and probably pick up some tricks from each other.”

NDPR is a shining opportunity for ambitious graduates. But it also serves the participating schools, who use it in recruitment efforts. Mardikes has himself hired talent he’s discovered there for local productions.

Categories include costume design, integrated media, lighting design, scenic design and sound design. Illustrious schools sending their highest-achieving graduates include the University of Texas, Boston University, University of Washington, UCLA, Penn State, The Ohio University, CalArts, Brooklyn College, Northwestern University and UMKC.

This year’s honoree candidates from UMKC are Gillian Rose Herold in costume design, Alexandra Combs in lighting design and Thomas Newby in sound design and composition. They face 32 competitors, all of them honored as “best and brightest” in theatre design work. The judges are from New York University, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Wingspace and United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829.

NDPR has a distinguished forerunner: Thirty-five years ago, Yale professor and renowned set designer Ming Cho Lee created “Clambake,” in which roughly 70 graduating MFA theatre designers from across the country chosen by Lee, set up their portfolios to be viewed by hundreds of New York area designers, as well as designers from leading MFA programs. Job offers were not the goal; the point was to engender meaningful discussions and insights between the students and the professionals, and the students and their peers.

Hal Prince, now deceased, in 2013 visiting a young designer (NDPR)

Ming discontinued Clambake in 2009. The following year, Kansas City hosted the 50th U.S. Institute of Theatre Technology annual convention, organized by a committee that included Mardikes, whose credentials include member of the National Theatre Conference, founder of Kansas City Actors Theatre, faculty chair of UMKC Conservatory and past chair of the UMKC Faculty Senate.

Realizing Clambake’s demise was a terrible loss to the theater community, Mardikes recruited top design faculty from various top schools, who revived the Clambake idea as NDPR and held it in 2011 in New York, where it has been held ever since. (Mardikes is excited to report that NYU has expressed interest in becoming a member and is offering its recently opened Paulson Center for the Arts as the site for future events.)

A deciding factor for Mardikes in undertaking the project was to add sound design, which Lee had never accepted as part of Clambake. Mardikes himself is a sound designer; he was one of only a few nationally prominent figures who advocated for and were successful in getting sound into the United Scenic Artists union and acknowledged in contracts.

Each school curates its own students and pays for their two-day trip. UMKC served as “bank” for the event until 2021, when Mardikes created a 501(c)(3), which he had done before for KC Actors Theatre. NDPR is now a Kansas registered corporation and, as such, can fundraise. Last year it received its first donation from the local union USA 829.

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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