Tobin Ost

New York City, New York, United States

Theatre Set Designer, Costume Designer, Set Designer

Opportunities working as a set and costume designer can be found throughout the country in all types of theatres. You don’t have to work on Broadway to have a great career. Good design is good design whether you are working on some little play in a community theatre or an extravagant production in a major city.

Since 1989, I have been working in theatre set and costume design business. Due to the freelance nature of my business, and the continuously changing size of the productions, the number of people I employ varies quite a bit. Sometimes I have a single assistant on a smaller show, and sometimes I have upwards of four assistants and two associates on the larger ones.

My most visible accomplishment comes from a Tony Award nomination for the Broadway musical Disney's Newsies, and I have also received other design awards for regional theatre productions. But quite frankly, being able to sustain oneself by doing what one sincerely loves is the most important personal accomplishment to me.

I have worked in theatres across the country, from New York City to Denver to Los Angeles. Flexibility is important in this business, as one month you may be working on a production about genocide in Rwanda, and the next designing the costumes and set for a production of “Romeo and Juliet”. The nature of design for theatre means every production you work on is different -- it will have different parameters; a different script or libretto; a different mix of people involved; radically differing budgets and design spaces. The nature of the work is always evolving and refreshing itself.

Here’s a bit of what we can cover in our PivotPlanet session(s):
• How to approach the design of a production irrespective of size or parameters.
• How to communicate and collaborate with a diverse range of people one encounters on virtually any given production.
• How to set personal goals within the production itself.
• Drafting, sketching and researching skills -- what's necessary in developing a design and its visual communication.
• Where to work? All theatres and theatre cities are not created equal. What location may be best for you and your goals with in this career?

You can't turn designing off! Some of the best ideas are not to be had at the desk, but out in the world at large. You can sit in front of a blank sheet of sketch paper for hours with no strong ideas and then see something while walking your dog that becomes the backbone of an entire look for a production. These ideas, caught "between the lines" on Post Its and wrinkled cocktail napkins, are frequently more important and have more potential than the ones that are actually planned. In short, you need to be open and welcoming to the rogue ideas that hit you from out of nowhere!

At the end of the day, if one works in theatre, one is there to help tell stories. It's hard to be prepared to do this if one is only telling other peoples' stories and not accumulating real, tangible, vivid ones of their own.


Over the years, I have gained a perspective on designing through a wide breadth of experience – rising from assistant designer to associate designer to lead designer; working in a wide variety of locations from regional theatre to New York based theatre; and having the opportunity to work in a wide variety of spaces. My expertise spans both set and costume design, but also touches on the interaction with projection, lighting and sound designers. Particular specialization also includes designing for musicals and other musically driven productions.

I've been very, VERY fortunate to have had perpetual work since graduate school and a solid, intensely loyal and loving group of collaborators, colleagues and friends (most notably Director Jeff Calhoun who is also a PivotPlanet mentor). The uneasy idea of not knowing what's up next and the ebb and flow of an inherently fickle business does make it difficult to plan. This is a career where uncertainty seems to be a given across the board and the "?" is something one should be prepared to live with….which makes the "!" moments even sweeter!