By Grace Potts

Bellarmine University senior Molly Duke’s work in costume design for Bellarmine’s theatre program has labeled her as someone to turn to for dress-relief.

Duke said, “I got into costume design my freshman year of college. It started with my interest in clothing and style in general.”

She said costume design is a way to visually tell a character’s story.

“As I got more into theatre and started learning more of the analysis aspect of characters and plays, it grew into a way to tell a character’s story visually accompanying the text,” she said.

Duke said two people from Bellarmine especially altered who she is as a designer: Dr. Zackary Ross and Professor Megan Burnett.

Duke said, “They have been incredibly helpful in allowing me to be creative and explore new ideas with every show I have worked on.”

Ross called Duke an “invaluable member” of the theatre production team.

“She’s been a student in several of my classes and has always stood out as a wonderful voice in the classroom and as one of our go-to students in the theatre program,” he said. “Molly is exceptionally dedicated to and passionate about her creative work. She’s sought out a number of opportunities over the years to test and expand her skills.”

Ross said Duke is not only exceptional in her theatre work but also in her character. He said she could often be found in Bellarmine’s Wyatt Hall helping friends with their work.

“Theatre programs can tend toward being a bit cliquey, and I’ve always marveled at how Molly seems to have found a home in a variety of peer groups, a true sign that she is well liked and respected by all,” Ross said.

Knights Media Network attempted to reach Burnett for comments, but she did not respond to the requests.

Bellarmine junior Stasia Schaum said Duke is, “an unsung hero of the theatre department and one of my closest friends.”

Schaum said she and Duke met during Schaum’s first semester when Duke was the costume assistant for the first show in which Schaum performed.

“I never would’ve predicted that we would’ve grown as close as we did. Since that first semester we have worked on various productions and been in a lot of theatre classes together,” Schaum said.

She said Duke is available to help every performer going beyond her role of designer.

“There have been many times where I have been ready to fly off the handle, but Molly is always there to calm me down and pull me out of whatever headspace I may be in.” she said.

Ross said Duke, among a cast of characters, stole the show in Bellarmine’s International 10-Minute Play Festival after first dreading being an actor.

“Every theatre major is required to perform at least once during their time at Bellarmine, and Molly–like many of our technical theatre students–was dreading being forced to act,” he said.

Ross said Duke also served as costume designer for the production while playing the role of an anime-inspired video game avatar.

“The costume she designed for herself was phenomenal, with a vibrant red wig, billowy black vinyl jumpsuit, and thigh-high red boots, but it was her comic timing and dead-pan delivery that really stole the show,” he said.

Duke (left) in the costume she designed for the play festival. Photo courtesy of Ross.

This is Ross’ favorite memory of Duke. He said she still swears she is not an actor and rolls her eyes at the time she was forced to act.

“I still smile every time I think of that play in no small part because of how fun it was to see her immerse herself into the strange and often silly realities of the play and the roles,” Ross said.

Schaum said: “If I could describe Molly in one word, it would be a visionary. Molly can be very stoic at first, but she is super ambitious and passionate.”

She said Duke set the stage for high-level costume design in the theater department.

“She impacted the caliber of costume design we expect to see in the program,” Schaum said.

Duke (right) modeling her capstone costume designs. Photo courtesy of Duke.

She said Duke stepped outside of her world of costume design to help others with their own projects.

“Her willingness to help even outside of her comfort zone will be greatly missed. Molly’s first show at Bellarmine she assumed over eight different positions in order to help the show run,” Schaum said.

Duke will graduate from Bellarmine with two degrees, a bachelor of arts in theatre and a bachelor of arts in art with an emphasis in sculpture and extended media. However, theatre was not the path she originally designed for herself.

Duke said: “I’ve always been really into art my whole life, so it felt like a natural choice. With theatre, it was a very in the moment decision. I worked on one production in high school my senior year and fell in love and decided that this is what I also wanted to do.”

Duke will move on to her next act at the Louisville Ballet after graduation. She earned a full-time position in the wardrobe department after working with the organization as an intern her junior year and then for two seasons of “The Nutcracker.”

“I’ll help with the build processes in the studio and continue to work backstage as a dresser during productions,” she said.

Ross said, “Unsurprisingly, Molly’s talents have already set her up for success after she leaves Bellarmine.”

He said he expects Duke to succeed in her career and break a leg wherever she ends up next.

“I fully expect to see her establish a thriving career in costume design and construction here in Louisville for as long as she chooses to stay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the call of Chicago or New York eventually took her into the thriving theatre scenes elsewhere,” Ross said.

Schaum said: “I know it’s time for her to take the next step in her career, but selfishly I wish we had more time with her, because it went by far too quickly. I want to see Molly’s designs on Broadway someday.”

She, too, said she sees Duke making a career in a city such as New York.

“She’s leaving Bellarmine to take a full-time position with the ballet, but I have no doubt she’ll get to New York someday. I can’t wait to see what she creates when she has every resource at her disposal,” Schaum said.

Duke said she sees costume design being her long-term career.

“I enjoy the challenge of telling stories through clothing and I don’t see that ending any time soon,” she said.

Duke said her time at Bellarmine had an impact on her outlook for her future.

“I know in the career field I won’t be making millions of dollars, but as long as I can remain happy in what I’m doing that’s all that matters,” she said.

Duke’s evolution from theatre to costume design has shown her the worth of costume design. She said she would tell aspiring artists like her that costume design is not always easy work but it is worth it.

“It is so incredibly rewarding to see the final product once it hits the stage. As cheesy as it sounds, just have fun with it. When it gets stressful, take a step back because it will give you time and space to work through what’s troubling you,” she said.

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