MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
What do you say when you have just a few hours to create a masterpiece from scratch?
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TIM GUNN: Make it work - go, go, go.
I say make it work to myself at least half a dozen times a day.
MARTIN: That's the famous catchphrase from "Project Runway's," Tim Gunn. He's best known for his snazzy outfits and calm can-do attitude on that TV reality show. But he wasn't always so comfortable in front of cameras and classrooms. In the latest installment of "My Big Break," Tim Gunn explains how he became a career mentor and teacher after overcoming a debilitating stutter.
GUNN: The worst moment ever - ever - was in the sixth grade. I had to do a report on the Louisiana Purchase, and I couldn't get Louisiana out of my mouth. I went over and over, and I ran out of the classroom crying and ran home. And I have to say, as someone who spent his childhood and teen years absolutely hating, hating, hating, hating school - to think that I would become a career teacher? That opportunity was a big, big break. I had graduated from college - of course, like every other artist, struggled with, well, how am I going to put bread on the table? And one of my very extraordinary teachers, Rona Slade, at, then the Corcoran School of Art in Washington - Rona called and she said, I just had a three-dimensional design instructor drop out for a summer-school class for high school students. And I'd like you to step in and teach this class.
So my first day teaching in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the Corcoran in Washington D.C., I left my apartment, got in my car, drove down Connecticut Avenue, went into the parking lot and I'm a wreck. My palms are sweating, I'm visibly trembling and I can barely open the car door. I'm finally successful getting it open, put one foot onto the asphalt pavement and I throw up all over the place. I just - and I haven't had any breakfast - so I shouldn't go into that degree of detail. God only knows what was in there (laughter). So I rally - sort of - stumble into the building, I'm a mess; I'm a basket case. I have to brace myself against one of the walls of the studio because my knees are shaking so badly, I'm fearful that I'm going to topple right over. So then the students are coming in - hello, good morning. And then I realize, I need my class roster, which is about 6 feet away on one of the studio tables. So I ask the student closest to me, would you mind bringing me that black notebook? And he looked at me a little bit, like, what's the matter, can't you move? And if he'd asked me the question, I would've said, you're quite correct, I can't. At any rate, this wasn't a make-it-work moment for me. This was never going to work, get out of it. So I went to Rona that Friday afternoon of the first week, having already rehearsed what I was going to say. And she looks at me and says, well, I trust that this will either kill you or cure you, and I'm counting on the latter. Good day. I thought, well, after all that I've been through, it's not going to kill me, sister (laughter). And sure enough, after a few weeks, things became a little more bearable, and I ended up really loving it.
MARTIN: That's "Project Runway's" Tim Gunn describing his big break.
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