by Niki Acton '16
Of the four nominations for the Non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Costume Design this year, two of them went to Rachel Sypniewski '01 for her work on Trap Door Theatre's La Bête and Griffin Theatre Company's Titanic. This month, her work on La Bête earned her the premiere Chicago theatre award that honors outstanding theatre artists. (Pictured above, the costumes Sypniewski designed for La Bête)
Sypniewski, who works as a freelance designer in the Chicago area, began her journey as a costume designer at Knox College. While she didn't know anything about the production side of theatre, with the mentorship of Margo Shiveley, Craig Choma, and Ivan Davidson, Sypniewski found her calling in costume design.
"It was the one element to me where I felt I could really contribute," she said.
Over her time at Knox, Sypniewski completed several designs and served as company manager of Repertory Term XII. "Knox was amazing at helping me develop skills in multi-tasking and how to navigate all different personality types," she said.
As a result of Knox's hands-on approach to teaching, Sypniewski was able to form close mentorships with her professors. One of these mentors, Smith V. Brand Endowed Chair in Theatre Arts Elizabeth Carlin-Metz, invited Sypniewski to collaborate on several professional projects for Vitalist Theatre in Chicago.
"From there, I have met countless actors, designers, and production crews who have led me to new companies to work with," said Sypniewski. "This is how I got my name into the hands of the team at Trap Door, which led to me designing La Bête."
In her design of La Bête, Sypniewski worked closely with the actors to ensure that she was helping bring to life what they saw in their heads, not only for their own characters but also for their fellow actors.
"La Bête is a spoof on Moliere," said Sypniewski. "So it wasn't true period but kind of pseudo-period. I had the freedom to suggest a Moliere style while being able to play with time period and color palate."
Sypniewski also worked closely with director Kay Martinovich on her vision and focused on bringing the complicated piece to life and making it accessible to audiences.
"My goal as a costume designer has been to bring the director's vision to life and to support the character work of the actors," said Sypniewski.
Sypniewski is currently working on costume design for several shows, including Trap Door Theatre's Universal Wolf, which will open in August.