Danielle Preston: Costume Design & Identity

by Porsche McGovern
Danielle Preston
Danielle Preston

I met Danielle Preston through a Facebook group. Danielle Preston is a freelance costume designer based in Washington DC. Danielle has designed for The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Theater for Young Audiences, The Lincoln Center, Theater J, Triad Stage, Theater Alliance DC, 1st Stage, Totem Pole Playhouse, and Bristol Valley Theater. Danielle was a recipient of the William R. Kenan Jr. Fellowship at the John F. Kennedy Center in Costume Design and the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute Fellowship in Costume Design Education. She is a member of the Costume Society of America and United Scenic Artists Local 829. She holds a BA in Theater Production from Meredith College and an MFA in Costume Design from The University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Ain’t Misbehavin at Totem Pole Playhouse. Director: Gerry McIntyre. Set Designer: Brian Dudkiewicz. Lighting Designer: Ryan Gibbs. Costume Designer: Danielle Preston. Photos: Totem Pole Playhouse.
Ain’t Misbehavin at Totem Pole Playhouse. Director: Gerry McIntyre. Set Designer: Brian Dudkiewicz. Lighting Designer: Ryan Gibbs. Costume Designer: Danielle Preston. Photos: Totem Pole Playhouse.

 How has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?
I don’t think it’s harmed me necessarily. I do think it’s given me a perspective. I grew up in a military family, moving around a lot and meeting different people. I went to all sorts of schools.  That’s made me more adaptable. Being a person of color adds to who I am. I think it’s helped me be more adaptable, like in situations where I’m the only person of color in the room.   

The Cherry Orchard at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Director: Tanya Belov. Set Design: Amber Primm. Lighting Design: Ansel Hollis. Wig & Makeup Design: Mazena Puksto. Costume Design: Danielle Preston. Photos: University of NC School of the Arts.
The Cherry Orchard at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Director: Tanya Belov. Set Design: Amber Primm. Lighting Design: Ansel Hollis. Wig & Makeup Design: Mazena Puksto. Costume Design: Danielle Preston. Photos: University of NC School of the Arts.

 

How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?
When I first started doing theatre in high school, I was really into white history, white plays, white theatre. Living in DC has helped me as a designer, because I have grown to love shows by people of color. I love August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Lorraine Hansberry, local DC playwrights like Tearrance Chisholm who I’ve gotten to work with. Working with these plays and casts of people of color has made me a more well-rounded designer. When I first started in design, I didn’t design one play with a black person in it. In DC, I got to work on my first show with people of color in it, that actually related to me as a person and as a designer.

Darius & Twig at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Theatre for Young Audiences. Director: Eleanor Holdridge. Set Designer: Andrew Cohen. Lighting Designer: John Alexander. Costume Designer: Danielle Preston. Photos: Teresa Wood.
Darius & Twig at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Theatre for Young Audiences. Director: Eleanor Holdridge. Set Designer: Andrew Cohen. Lighting Designer: John Alexander. Costume Designer: Danielle Preston. Photos: Teresa Wood.

 

What would you like people of color considering or in the early stages of a theatre career to know? Is there any advice you wish you'd be given?
Never limit yourself to your own imagination. Life will give you more than you can imagine. Don’t box yourself into limits. What you may have planned, there may be something better out there for you. I used to over-plan & over- evaluate, but now being open works much better.

Fly By Night at 1st Stage. Director: Kathryn Chase Bryer. Set Designer: Nate Sinnot. Lighting Designer: Conor Mulligan. Costume Designer: Danielle Preston. Photos: Teresa Castracane Photography.
Fly By Night at 1st Stage. Director: Kathryn Chase Bryer. Set Designer: Nate Sinnot. Lighting Designer: Conor Mulligan. Costume Designer: Danielle Preston. Photos: Teresa Castracane Photography.

Who was a role model of yours in your respective field? Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?
I think my mom, she reminds me every day to be independent and never assimilate. My experience as an African American women or person of color makes me who I am. She gives me the confidence to be different. My experience as a woman of color is unique. My mom has always been extremely honest about what I am going to encounter, not just as a designer of color, but also as a woman of color.

When I moved to DC, I started meeting women of color designers who mentored me.  That’s helped me so much to have people to talk to who understand my struggle. Deb Sivigny has mentored me from the moment I arrived in DC.  

Where Words Once Were at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Theatre for Young Audiences. Director: Colin Hovde. Set Designer: Andrew Cohen. Lighting Designer: Mary Keegan. Projections Design: Patrick Lord. Costume Designer: Danielle Preston. Photos: Yassine El Mansouri.
Where Words Once Were at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Theatre for Young Audiences. Director: Colin Hovde. Set Designer: Andrew Cohen. Lighting Designer: Mary Keegan. Projections Design: Patrick Lord. Costume Designer: Danielle Preston. Photos: Yassine El Mansouri.

What's your favorite thing about being a costume designer?
Research. I love collecting books and photos and historical writings, like journals. I can spend weeks researching every detail.