Leah Pelz to Receive First USITT Barbara Matera Award

Leah Pelz, a graduate student in Costume Production at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has won USITT’s first Barbara Matera Award in Costume Making, sponsored by Judy Adamson.

Leah Pelz

Adamson, costume director for UNC’s Dramatic Arts department, established the award last year in honor of her mentor, legendary costumer Barbara Matera, whose New York shop dressed Hollywood and Broadway for three decades before her death in 2001.

Pelz will receive the award at USITT’s Annual Conference & Stage Expo March 26-29 in Fort Worth, Texas. She wins $1,000 cash plus free registration for the four-day USITT Conference, where she’ll network with other industry professionals and participate in some of the 200 workshops and activities.

The award is one of 11 Young Designers & Technicians awards presented annually by USITT, the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, to recognize excellence by young theatrical designers and technicians. Winners are nominated by USITT members and chosen by a panel of experts in each field based on portfolios of their work.

Adamson herself nominated Pelz, along with several other students, for the first award to honor costume making rather than design. Another YD&T award, the Zelma H. Weisfeld Costume Design & Technology Award, recognizes young costume designers.

Jeffrey Lieder, costume director for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and New York costume designer Jennifer Caprio, wrote letters recommending Pelz for the award. Caprio credited Pelz with draping and stitching “one of the most graceful and delicate gowns (or costumes for that matter) that I’ve ever designed” — a black lace dress for the Sally Bowles character in a production of Cabaret.

Lisa Brescia as Sally Bowles, Cabaret, PlayMaker's Rep 2013. Costume design by Jen Caprio, photo by Jon Gardiner.

“Leah reminds me of a young Barbara Matera or Donna Langman,” Caprio wrote. “I see her succeeding in the professional theatre world and easily being sought after by shops. She’s so good, I have been encouraging her to move to New York City when she’s finished with school.”

Besides the Sally Bowles dress, Pelz’s portfolio included professional work for PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C., the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Her other credits include the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis., Central City Opera in Central City, Colo., and Illinois

Wesleyan University, where she received a bachelor’s in Theatre Arts and Political Science in 2009. She hails from Decatur, Ill.

Leah Pelz said she is thrilled to win the award and be able to meet living costume legends Hollywood costume designer Ann Roth, who will receive USITT”s 2014 Distinguished Achievement Award in Costume Design at the Conference.

“I’ve spent the last three years of graduate school hearing all about Barbara Matera (from Judy Adamson),” Pelz said. “So it is really exciting and gratifying to win the award that bears her name.”

USITT, the non-profit association for backstage professionals, provides year-round training, networking, awards, information-sharing, and resourcing of theatrical products and services. For more on USITT, please visit www.usitt.org. For information on the Conference, go to www.usitt.org/2014.