Career Path: Costume Designer Rainy Edwards is Just Getting Started

by Lisa Mulcahy
Costumes for Beauty & The Beast designed by Rainy Edwards at FSU
Costumes for Beauty & The Beast designed by Rainy Edwards at FSU

Rainy Edwards has a natural eye for a perfect stage picture—combine that with her educational credentials and her commitment to perfecting her technical skill set, and her future in the theater is truly limitless. Edwards currently holds the title of head draper at Arts Center of Coastal Carolina in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and she also does freelance costume design for companies including Triad Stage, Lexington Children’s Theatre, GLOW Lyric Theatre, Heritage Theatre Festival, and Stagedoor Manor. A 2017 MFA graduate from Florida State University, Edwards’ lush, color-drenched costumes for FSU’s production of Beauty and The Beast won her countless accolades; she’s also designed acclaimed costumes for a wide range of other shows, including Follies, Legally Blonde, Hamlet, Henry V, Wild Honey, Spring Awakening, and West Side Story. Edwards recently spoke with SD regarding the trajectory of her career, her approach to technical challenges and character-driven design, and her artistic goals for the future.

A Willingness to Learn
Edwards wasn’t one of those kids who knew from a young age that she longed to work in the theater—quite the contrary, in fact. “I didn’t get into theater until was in high school—I went to a small school in Texas,” she says. “I started acting in my junior year, but I didn’t know whether I even wanted to go to college then, let alone know what I wanted to do in terms of a career. In December of my senior year, though, my teacher said to me, ‘You should study theater.’ So, I just decided, OK, I’ll do that! I auditioned for colleges, and actually got an acting scholarship to Texas A&M Corpus Christi. I mean, I knew NOTHING about theater when I got there! But I had made costumes in high school, and I’d always liked drawing. When I found out I could study costume design at college, I switched from acting to costume design the first week I was there.”

Edwards threw herself into learning everything she could about costuming. “My professor Rosa Lazaro really pushed me to learn more all the time,” she recalls. Wanting to be even more prepared in terms of knowledge and experience, Edwards went straight from Texas A&M to grad school at FSU, a program that is known for its strong technical design curriculum. “That’s what I wanted—practice,” she says. “At FSU, it was important to know craft—dyeing, building. Mentors I had there, like Colleen Muscha and Martha Cooper, taught me to trust myself and my viewpoint.”

This sense of confidence in her abilities spurred Edwards on as she honed her expertise in draping, pattern drafting, fabric modification, millinery, and stage makeup as well as designing. She set out to gain professional experience at a range of theaters, working successfully at organizations like the Utah Shakespeare Festival as both a first hand and stitcher.Edwards draped and stitched the costume design by Jack Maisenbach for Dial M for Murder at The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.

Eventually, word about her talent earned Edwards a big break. “Triad Stage was doing The Passion of Teresa Rae King, and a good friend of mine happened to be the lighting designer—my friend recommended me for the costume design job on the show,” she says. “Someone put my name out there and put herself on the line for me—that was a huge victory.” The positive reaction her work on the show received was the icing on the cake.

A Desire to Keep Growing
One admirable quality Edwards brings to her work is her goal to improve at every stage of her career. This is not a designer who will ever rest on her laurels. “When I was an undergrad, I remember that when I got hired to be a stitcher at Utah Shakespeare Festival, I was SO nervous!” she says. “I was not used to building big things, and in working on one costume I put one of the sleeves in wrong three or four times. I thought, because of this sleeve, I am never going to be able to come back to work here again! But I decided I wasn’t going to the hide the fact that I was messing up. I thought, I’ll just go ask for help, and I did, and I got it—everyone was so helpful there, and of course everything was fine. And I was asked back! So that’s a big piece of advice I can share—always go ask for help when you need it.”

Edwards also sees adaptability as a great tool a designer should be able to call upon. “When I was working on Beauty and The Beast at FSU, it was both a creative and technical challenge,” she remembers. “There were actually two directors on that show. When the second director came in, I had already designed costumes, and had to re-design them to make them more ‘Broadway.’ I understood the reason why—people want to pay their money to see something very iconic. This kind of situation can be so overwhelming—you want to be able to put your own ideas out there, but you also need to be true to the original source. So, what I did, and I think you always need to do, is to take a step back, and think about the production. You need to know who these characters are, so they can tell their own stories. Looking at the character’s development first allows you to be true to the original source, but also contribute yourself.” Costume sketch of her design for Beauty & The Beast by Rainy Edwards

That focus on character is all-encompassing in Edwards’ design philosophy. “I really love crowd scenes,” she enthuses. “In the opening number of Beauty and The Beast, there’s a crowd scene where Belle is the only one in blue. I love that idea, but I also thought that all the characters in the background need to feel important in the story visually, too. You have the fishmonger, the bread seller, the candlestick maker—these characters need to look unique themselves, because that’s important for the story, and it helps the background actors with their characters, too. I pay attention to the design for all the characters in every scene.”

An Open Artistic Mind and Path
Edwards’ talent has earned her the opportunity of working as a draper/cutter with costume designers Jennifer Van Buskirk, Jack Maisenbach, and Allison Atmore, in addition to her design work. She’s also the recipient of numerous theater awards, including the SETC Ready to Work Award at Lexington Children’s Theatre; the Texas A&M School of Arts, Media and Communications Best Designer Award; and the KCACTF Meritorious Achievement in Costume Design citation. Her reputation can take her anywhere, a concept Edwards likes just fine. “I love working at Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, and I do love freelancing,” she says. “I love traveling, so this lifestyle that’s come upon me through my work is really perfect for me.” In addition to continuing her theatrical design work, Edwards is already branching out into illustration (she’s working on a book project) and wants to pursue conceptual art as well. She’s also interested in lending her creative gifts to video games and films.
In short, Edwards will no doubt distinguish herself in whatever way she chooses. “I’m open to working in different forms of multimedia in terms of my future goals,” she sums up. “In the end, I love making characters!”

See more of Rainy’s work at www.rainyedwards.com