Alum spotlight: Matt Armentrout (BFA ’13)

matt smiling and holding monkey

Matt Armentrout, BFA 2013, Costume Design/Technology

While still in high school, Matt attended Pratt Institute for a summer program in fashion and met an instructor who was a costume designer, “I didn’t even think was an option.” When he started at VCU, Toni-Leslie James was head of costume design (she’s now heading up costumes at Yale), and Neno Russell (current head of design/technology, costume shop manager and associate professor) arrived his sophomore year. “They’re like my second parents.” Another inspiration was faculty member Maura Lynch Cravey who “was a huge advocate for me and took me under her wing.”

matt smiling

Matt spent two summers at the Williamstown Theatre Festival working with Toni, who noticed his skills with hair and wigs, “She brought me along starting junior year.” He was already working in New York on A Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare in the Park when VCU graduation fell in the middle of the run. “I took the midnight bus to Richmond to graduate and came back the next morning.”

matt at graduation

After he got his cosmetology license, he worked for noted wig designer Robert-Charles Vallance and from there he became Robert’s assistant wig designer for Amazing Grace. Since then, his credits on and off Broadway continue to grow: Something Rotten, the revival of Cats, the revival of Angels in America, and Come from Away.

More recently he worked on Bernhardt/Hamlet, with fellow alum Jason Butler Harner (BFA ’92). He’s also designed for Paradise Square at Berkeley Rep which may end up on Broadway.

actors on stage
From Paradise Square (Berkeley Rep), photo by Kevin Berne

Another influential woman in Matt’s life was Paloma Young, who asked him to do wigs for Merrily We Roll Along off-Broadway and Bliss at Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theatre.

actors on stage
From Bliss (5th Avenue Theatre), photo by Mark Kitaoka

Matt considers his most unique gig was designing wigs for the band Phish’s New Year’s Eve show at Madison Square Garden. His assignment was to make 40 dancers and singers look like clones of the band members, “It was a very interesting experience and beautifully stressful. Their concert experience is otherworldly.”

When COVID hit, Matt was designing FIVE shows: three on Broadway, one for Yale Rep and one off Broadway. They’re all on hold till 2021.

matt working in shop

Matt thinks back to his experience at VCU, “They treat you and train you like you will be out in the real world. It’s an extremely valuable feature of the program. Being part of part of the School of the Arts inspires you because you are surrounded by people who see art differently.”

Written by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the October 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter