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USITT Young Designer Erin Reed

Stage Directions • Costumes and Masks • July 24, 2019
USITT Young Designer Erin Reed

USITT Young Designer Erin Reed

Costume designer Erin Reed is based out of Knoxville, TN. She just completed her MFA at the University of Tennessee. She’s a freelance costume designer, design assistant and technician working with companies such as the Clarence Brown Theatre, River and Rail Theatre Company, Flying Anvil Theatre, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. This spring she was honored for her work with the USITT Zelma H. Weisfeld Award for Costume Design and Technology. She also showcased in USITT’s Young Designer’s Forum, and won first place in Graduate Costume Design at SETC 2018 for her design of Peter and the Starcatcher. Stage Directions caught up with this young designer to watch at USITT when she joined us at the USITT/Stage Directions studio on the show floor.

I went to undergrad at Webster University in St Louis; that school really honed my work ethic. It’s a conservatory program, so I graduated with a BFA and an ability to pull all-nighters and really devote my time to the work, and just the sense that this is really what I want to do and that I can’t imagine doing anything else. Then through a series of happenstances, I wound up at the University of Tennessee. I’ve been really, really pleased with the people I’ve met, the connections I’ve made. My professors, who continue to work all around professionally, have been so great about bringing students in to things and letting us be involved with them. 

My undergrad mentor was Dottie Marshall Englis. She is amazing. She really showed me, what it was like to be someone who thought about plays, not just in a practical sense but she taught me how to look at a script and find the meaning and character. She laid that foundation for me. She also is my career inspiration as well. She is the chair of the theatre department at Webster University and though she runs this conservatory she also has an amazing life of balancing working outside and balancing her job at Webster with having this steadiness of having a house and dogs and a husband and a family. That meant a lot to me to see that modeled because I think so often we see women in theater as, “Oh, you have to go to New York and you have to just be this career person. You can’t have anything else.” She is also was my inspiration to go into teaching. I had such good teachers in undergrad that I felt it was my duty almost to go get my MFA. So I could teach hopefully one day, that I could do that for someone else.
Reed’s costumes for Alias Grace Reed’s costumes for Alias Grace

At the University of Tennessee, Bill Black and Lauren Roark have been amazing. They have been there through everything. Lauren is new to us but she has done so much to get me out there and Bill Black has been a wonderful mentor in both costume technology and design, and just being my support system through grad school, really keeping me sane. 

Career Goals:
The end goal is to teach, but I think it’s important that I go out and do something before I try to tell others how to do something. So I am going to freelance. It’s scary, but I think it’s the good next step. And if you don’t do it now when you’re 24, when are you going to do it? I definitely want to work regionally. I’m not a very big city person, but I love to travel and I love to see new places. So regional theatre is really the goal right now. 
Rendering for production at River & Rail Theatre Company

Being a USITT Young Designer: 
It’s been great. I mean, it’s just such an opportunity to really put your work out there for so many people to see and to meet people from all over the place. I’ve been talking to people from Utah, from Massachusetts, from all across the entire nation and you can never turn down the opportunity to showcase your work in front of this kind of audience. It is such an honor to just be involved in any sort of way, but especially in such a way that they would honor me with an award, is just, it means a lot and it feels like a good way to start my career and hit the ground running. I did not expect it. I was really excited to put together the portfolio and send it off. You have to write your own design statement and then write a design statement for every show you submit. And I think that is such a valuable exercise. You need to be able to talk about your work. You need to be able to eloquently tell why you made the choices you made, because otherwise, what did you do? What did you design? How do you justify the choices you made? And I think that that’s where the design really happens—in the choosing. Even if it’s not the flashiest thing, is it the smartest choice? That needs to be the answer. You’re always trying to tell the story. 

See more of Erin Reed’s work and keep up with her career at

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