Rochester Rep Theatre's Cara Edwards knows costumes

Cara Edwards has been the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s costume designer for 25 years. She’s worked on dozens of plays spanning a range of time periods and settings. She likes the challenge.

Asked and Answered - Cara Edwards
Cara Edwards has been designing and making theatrical costumes as a costumer at the Rochester Repertory Theatre for 25 years. Edwards is photographed Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the theater.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — Cara Edwards, 68, said she fell into costume design. She was working in the Rochester Repertory Theatre box office one day when one of the directors, looking for help with costumes, asked if she could sew. Edwards, who had been sewing since she was 9, said yes and agreed to take on the challenge.

Edwards has now been the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s costume designer for 25 years. She has worked on dozens of plays. Just this year she created outfits for a range of historical time periods and settings — from the 1760s in Germany to a 1970s Julliard classroom.

She just finished the run of "Master Class," a play about the famed opera singer Maria Callas, and is now preparing for the Broadway musical "Spring Awakening" opening in April. Edwards said she’s often on a tight costume budget, but she likes coming up with creative strategies to make her vision come to life.

Sitting in the green room, surrounded by costumes, wigs and fabric, the Post Bulletin asked Edwards more about her process.

You just finished costuming the play "Master Class." How did you come up with your concept for Maria Callas’ look? 


I did tons of research. There’s a lot online about Maria Callas, so I watched some documentaries about her and read as much as I could. I tried to absorb how she looked and get a sense for her style, which was classic and expensive looking.

We settled on a black suit and small details like a real $300 Hermes silk scarf tied to her bag. The suit came from eBay. I looked through thousands of suits before settling on the right one. The rest of the budget went to her wig — she’s known for having long, flowy brown hair.

I haven’t done much with wigs before, but I spent a lot of time late at night on YouTube getting different ideas and playing around with it. I’ve been known to go to 4 a.m. and not realize what time it is. I’m most creative late at night.

How much are you buying costumes versus making items from scratch?

It varies. I don’t have the time or budget to make all the items from scratch, so I’m often buying items and then tinkering with the clothes or adding new elements to work for the show. You definitely have to get creative.

Cara Edwards costumed "Master Class," a play about Maria Callas, the retired world-famous opera singer.
Contributed / Cara Edwards

I helped out with a recent production of "Beauty and the Beast," and the cast needed help with Chip’s costume, a tea cup. I ended up finding a big plastic planter at Lowes. I cut the bottom off and painted it and that became Chip.

I also look for fabric in odd places. With one of my recent shows, I found curtains and tablecloths at Savers that I was able to remake into costumes. I like reusing things and it also allows me to get pretty neat fabrics inexpensively. It's like a treasure hunt.

It looks like you’ve sketched out a lot of the costumes. 


I've always been artistic and drawing helps me figure out how I’m going to put the costume together. I learned a long time ago that if I can draw it, I can make it.

What were you doing before you started working at the theater?

I had my own interior design shop.

I've always liked to make things, and this gives me a reason to make them. I don't want to make something just to make it. And I like being part of something bigger.

Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on?

Probably the "Mystery of Irma Vep." In the play, two actors play 22 characters. So not only was I creating elaborate costumes, I also had to think about how they could change quickly from one costume to another. What I ended up doing was making costumes with openings down the back that fastened with three big buttons. That way the actor could walk backstage and a dresser could help him quickly take his clothes off and walk into the next costume.

Cara Edwards helped out with the Mrs. Potts and Chip costumes for a recent production of "Beauty and the Beast." The Chip costume is a repurposed plastic planter from Lowes.
Contributed / Cara Edwards

Those costumes were wringing wet every night at the end of the show because the actors were working so hard and moving so fast.

You spend so much time creating these costumes. When do you start to feel like it’s all coming together?


Usually by the dress rehearsal. When you see a cast member walking around in a suit, it’s no big deal. But when you see it on stage with the lights, the makeup, the hair and the scenery, it’s magic.

I wait for that moment every time I do a show because most days I’m working from home and not seeing the whole picture of all the costumes together. Around dress rehearsal, when I see them all on stage, I go, wow, it’s going to work.

An early sketch by Cara Edwards, costume designer for Rochester Repertory Theatre.
Contributed / Cara Edwards
Two out of 22 costumes Cara Edwards designed for Rochester Repertory Theatre's the "Mystery of Irma Vep."
Contributed / Cara Edwards

Molly Castle Work is an award-winning investigative journalist. She has investigated a range of topics such as OSHA and worker safety during COVID-19, racially-disproportionate juries and white-owned newspapers' role in promoting lynchings. Readers can reach Molly at 507-285-7771 or
What To Read Next
Get Local