Assistant Professor of Performing Arts Karl Green has been creating costumes for Elon University’s performing arts department for five years. Known as blunt but nurturing by his students and fellow faculty members, they agree Green’s expertise and honesty make him a dynamic member of the department.
The 49 years of building his skill in fashion and dance have made Green the highly revered professor he is today.
From happy to hate
Green was born in King George County, Virginia, in 1961. His interest in fashion began with sewing at a young age, of which his mother disapproved.
She had a different idea of what he should be doing.
“I started to sew when I was five years old, and my mother didn’t like it,” Green said. “She said boys don’t sew, and boys go outside and get dirty. And I refused, and I kept [sewing]. She kept screaming at me, and I said, ‘I’m not hurting anything. I’m just sewing.’”
From then on, he fought against his upbringing. Green was diligent in school and received a scholarship to attend college at the University of Mary Washington where he majored in math and English. But after taking a number of art classes Green decided to attend a traditional art school.
Green then attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where he first received a degree in crafts, focused in fabrics. Throughout the next two decades, Green would work in a printing shop, obtain a degree in fashion, work in New York, teach at VCU, design wedding dresses and get his master’s in costuming, not necessarily in that order. But Green said during this part of his life, he never applied for a job — these opportunities presented themselves to him through hard work and connections.
At 49-years-old, Green was a professor at VCU and finishing his masters when he realized he was no longer satisfied with that environment. With the guidance of a good friend, Green filled out his first ever job application.
“I went from happy to ‘I hate it,’” Green said. “Almost as immediately as that happened, I got my master’s degree. One day, a good friend who knew I was unhappy came in and said, ‘There are five jobs with your name on it, and you should look at them.’ I applied to all of them, and I was offered all of them.”
Elon was one of them.
He applied the spring of 2010. He started working the following fall.
The man who does it all
With most costuming departments, there are designers who draw the pictures and organize the image and technical people who physically bring the image to life. By the time Green arrived, Associate Professor Jack Smith was the only person in the department and was doing both the designing and technical sides. Green was hired to be the technical employee, to run the costuming shop, but he quickly became involved with all aspects of the department.
“Before I knew it, I was doing all of it, so now Jack and I share all of it,” Green said. “Sometimes I help him. Sometimes he helps me. Sometimes it’s his. Sometimes it’s mine. It depends on the show.”
Smith, who has worked side by side with Green for the last five years, revels in his work with his colleague. When he wants a costume to have a certain look, he knows Green can pull it off.
“We often collaborate,” Smith said. “It’s very relieving. I know I can say very brief information about what I want, and it’s there, and it’s amazing.”
Green teaches a number of courses within the department including “Sewing” and “Costume Design,” but often his interactions with students extend beyond the classroom. Through work-study, he works alongside his students making costumes and having that out-of-classroom opportunity to teach. Green said within these moments students are more than mentees, and it’s important to teach them as such.
“When you’re creating art, you’re colleagues, too,” Green said. “Yes, I know more than they do, but I don’t treat them like that. I like the one-on-one, and you get that more outside the classroom. But I also like working with students who are really interested.”
Sophomore Claire Bishop, a theatrical design and production and arts administration double major, met Green to discuss the program and seek advice during her first Elon tour. Now, Bishop regularly works with him on shows, and said it’s Green’s desire to make her better that makes him a special person to work with.
“Karl is the kind of person that wants to give you knowledge,” Bishop said. “If he likes you, he will give you the world and do anything to make sure you succeed. He recognizes talent, and when he sees it, he’ll personally mentor you. He wants us to succeed so badly. It’s amazing to have someone like that on your side.”
Smith echoed the sentiments about his colleague, saying while sometimes he has to say the harsh truth, Green always has his students’ best interests in mind.
“His interactions are wonderful,” Smith said. “He’s a good mentor. He offers solid advice. If it needs to be harsh, he says what needs to be said. He doesn’t tend to dance around a subject if a student isn’t performing at their best. He wants to find the best path for them.”
A connection to dance
In Elon’s performing arts department, Green is the go-to designer for dance costuming. While it wasn’t his intended role when he was first hired, his history with dance has opened a niche for him in the department.
“I danced in college while design tech faculty usually haven’t, and my partner is a choreographer,” Green said. “I am really connected to dance. I speak the language of dance, while another designer wouldn’t have that same language. [Designing for dance is] where I really sing.”
Smith noted there was a need for a dance designer, and since filling the role, Green’s skills in dance design have helped the dance program reach new levels of professionalism.
“Dance design is where his strength is,” Smith said. “We weren’t really looking for a designer for dance, but he came with that ability. It’s been amazing to watch him work with them [dance majors] and see that program take off because of him.”
Sophomore Allison Dyke, a dance and psychology double major, has worked with Green as a dance major and as a work-study student in the costuming shop. She said Green’s connection to the dance program is a strong one, and his influence is valuable because he understands the needs of dancers.
“We have a special set of needs,” Dyke said. “We move so much in [the costumes], and we have to convey something in a less literal way than theater does. He envisions things better than we ever could. [His costumes] are just as much a part of the piece as any of the movement.”
Pearls of wisdom
Through their work with Green, many students have discovered their passions and have been pushed to their best.
Dyke, for one, said her goals in life have been completely changed by Green’s influence.
“He helped me discover a love of dance costuming I never knew I had,” Dyke said. “He gave me a skill set I didn’t know I could pursue after graduating. That’s a whole avenue I never planned on having when I got to Elon.”
Bishop said she believes she has found a mentor for her entire Elon career. Green is the person she goes to for professional or personal advice.
“I spend every day with him,” Bishop said. “He’s taught me so much, not just about costuming but about life in general. He is the first professor I met here and the first person here that influenced me.
Green said he hopes he has influenced his students, not just by teaching them the material, but by giving them his soul. He said showing his students he loves his life and his work can inspire them to find the same passions in life.
When thinking of his students and all those who may want to follow his career footsteps, Green emphasized the importance of saying what you want and being willing to work to get there.
“With any career path, you have to tell people what you’re interested in,” he said. “Like I’ve learned, if you don’t speak up, nothing comes to you. You never know who you’re talking to. And you also have to know you’ll have to work really, really hard.”