Barriers to entry are everywhere, from grade school, to college, and beyond. How can we change that? What we’ve been told is that hard work and elbow grease are all you need, but the actual fact is that it takes much more than that to reach “success”. With this in mind, it was a privilege this past summer to have a candid conversation with 3-time Tony Nominated Costume Designer Toni-Leslie James. With credits ranging from Footloose to Come From Away, Jelly’s Last Jam to Bernhardt/Hamlet, and The Wild Party to The Scottsboro Boys, hear about her decades-long journey from young, bright-eyed student at Ohio State in the late seventies, to multi-award nominated costume designer. Get your notebooks ready… class is in session.
Toni-Leslie James has designed costumes nationally and internationally for every entertainment venue: feature film, television, opera, dance, industrials, regional theatre, and Broadway. For Broadway, she has designed Bernhardt/Hamlet (Drama Desk Award, TONY nomination) Come From Away (Hewes Design Award, Drama Desk nomination), August Wilson’s Jitney (TONY and Drama Desk nominations), Lucky Guy, The Scottsboro Boys, Finian’s Rainbow, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, King Hedley II, One Mo’ Time, The Wild Party, Marie Christine, Footloose, The Tempest, Twilight Los Angeles 1992, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches & Perestroika, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Jelly’s Last Jam (Hewes Design Award, TONY and Drama Desk nominations).
Off Broadway, she has designed multiple productions for The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, Soho Rep, Lincoln Center Theatre, The New York Theatre Workshop, and over 15 productions for the NY City Center Encores series. Regionally, her work was seen in productions for La Jolla Playhouse, Steppenwolf, Hartford Stage, the Long Wharf, Baltimore Center Stage, the Old Globe, Mark Taper Forum, Arena Stage, Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, the Round House Theatre, Seattle Rep, the Shakespeare Theatre, Berkley Rep, the Alliance Theatre, Goodspeed Playhouse, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, ACT, and Crossroads Theatre Co. Internationally, she has designed for The Abbey Theater in Ireland, The Young Vic, the Royal Court Theater, the Chichester Theater Festival, and currently on the West End in the UK. She has also designed for the Athens Greek Festival, and Radio Dansmark TV in Denmark. She was the Head Costume Designer for Whoopi on NBC, and the CBS soap opera, As the Word Turns, as well as having designed four specials for WNET/13’s Great Performances series. Her design work has been displayed in nine major museum and college exhibitions including a 2006 retrospective of her career at The American Museum of Natural History “Designing Woman: Inside The Life And Career of Costume Designer, Toni-Leslie James”, the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library 2008–2009 exhibition “Curtain Call: A Century of Designing Women”, and “More Life!: Angels in America at Twenty” at The Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco.
Ms. James received a B.F.A. in Theatre from The Ohio State University. She was an Associate Professor and Head of Design at the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Theatre, where she taught from 2007–2019. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by Sewanee, The University of the South, in 2018. She is currently an Assistant Professor Adjunct of Design at the Yale School of Drama. www.portfolio-toni-leslie-james.com
Alan C. Edward’s credits include: Off-Broadway: Harry Clarke (The Vineyard, Lucille Lortel Award); Kill Move Paradise (National Black Theatre, Drama Desk Nomination); Fires in the Mirror (Signature Theatre, Lucille Lortel Nomination); The Hot Wing King (Signature Theatre); The New Englanders (MTC); American Moor (Red Bull); Native Son, Measure for Measure (The Acting Company); Dutchman, Antigone, Macbeth (Classical Theatre of Harlem); The First Noel (CTH & The Apollo); Regional credits include: Lights Out: Nat King Cole (Geffen Playhouse, People’s Light); Pipeline, Skeleton Crew, Once On This Island (Actors Theatre of Louisville); Detroit ’67 (Chautauqua Theatre Co.); The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Asolo Rep, Miami New Drama); Twisted Melodies (Center Stage Baltimore); Henry IV Part 2, Fingersmith (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); The Mountaintop, The Royale, Sweat (Cleveland Playhouse); Stagger Lee, Penny Candy (Dallas Theatre Center); Man of La Mancha (Westport Playhouse); Sweeney Todd (Connecticut Repertory Theatre); We Are Proud To Present (The Guthrie) and Jeremy McQueen’s Madiba (The Kennedy Center). Broadway: Associate to Jennifer Tipton on The Testament of Mary. He received his M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama. For more information, please visit www.alancedwards.com.