Have you hugged a monster today?

I still remember the moment vividly.

Around this time last year, I was walking home from a Primary Stages opening night after party for their production of Billy Porter's While I Yet Live..., and I turned the corner on 41st Street to walk toward my Priceline-deal hotel in Midtown. There, in bright lights, was the marquee on the Nederlander Theater (home to the original Broadway production of Rent) for Honeymoon In Vegas, the new Broadway musical starring Tony Danza. 

But I didn't care about Tony Danza.

I was excited about Brian Hemesath, a kind, generous costume designer from my undergraduate alma mater, St. Ambrose University, who was about to make his Broadway debut with the show. After success with many regional theaters, costuming "The Today Show" crew for their Halloween costume spectacular for years, designing for "Sesame Street" and "Saturday Night Live," he was finally on Broadway. 

Fun fact: When I was a wee young college student, Brian returned to St. Ambrose to costume me as a Centipede in a world premiere of Aaron Randolph's musical, James and the Giant Peach. I wore leather pants, Harley Davidson boots, and had insect tentacles that bent down to form a Madonna microphone for my song, a riff off of that late 90s phenomenon known as the Backstreet Boys. 

Picture it. 

So, it was a joy to interview Brian for the most recent issue of Scene magazine, which recently landed in mailboxes. (You can read the story here.)

There is much, I think, to learn from Brian and the way he works. As I listened to him talk about his work,  and the industry in general, what occurred most to me was the kindness and generosity he brings to the relationships he has. Every single day, I imagine Brian is surrounded by celebrities—from Tiny Fey to Bert and Ernie. I'm sure he has worked with his fair share of divas and divos in his day (want to bet that Bert is particularly difficult to work with?). But I love his perspective: 

Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about my liberal arts education is the wide range of experiences I was able to have. That showed me that I get to decide how I approach my work and my life. For me, that means being as nice and as kind as I possibly can be to anyone I work with—because it is how I want to be treated. It is also, I think, how one can enjoy a long, happy, fulfilling career in this business.
— Brian Hemesath, Emmy Award-winning Costume Designer

One of his mentors—also one of mine—Dr. Corinne Johnson, attributes that way of work, and way of life, to who he has always been as a person: 

When Brian was a student many years ago, I saw a man who cared deeply about humanity—a person most interested in how a group of people could come together to have a truly shared, collaborative experience. He didn’t just visualize or create and act on an idea in isolation, but rather, found ways to work that honored the human spirit of others with kindness and, at the same time, a sense of urgency.
— Dr. Corinne Johnson, Professor of Theater, St. Ambrose University

As we approach the New Year, let us all ask ourselves how we can honor the human spirit of others. How we can spread kindness. Treat others with respect. Look at who we know people are, at their core, and see the goodness that is inside them. 

Indeed, there is much we can learn from an episode of "Sesame Street." 

Read the full Scene article on Brian here. 


Costume renderings courtesy of Brian Hemesath's website