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Alum spotlight: Cierra Coan (BFA ’15)

Woman spraying hair spray on man in suit in front of american flag

Cierra Coan BFA 2015, Costume Design

Cierra came to interview with Toni-Leslie James and Neno Russell during her senior year of high school. “I remember it being really cold and snowy. I saw the costumes designed by Josh Quinn for Dangerous Liaisons and they were gorgeous.” After seeing that and Theresa Bush’s work on The Skriker, “It was really cool to see juxtaposition of the two genres.”

About her time at VCU, Cierra explains, “I was fortunate to be there when AMC’s Turn and PBS’s Mercy Street starting filming in Richmond.” Since Neno Russell knew both of the shows’ designers, he was hired to help with construction and Cierra got to build for both shows. 

girl smiling next to plaster mask
Cierra laughing at the discomfort actors have to go through for her craft. The making of MacBeth’s decapitated head, a full head plaster cast to make it look realistic and properly gory for the production. Left to right: Cierra Coan and Aaron Mauck (VCU 2014) 
woman standing next to a mannequin
Cierra with a triumphant smile after successfully wrestling a dress form to roll across carpet. Freshman end of year portfolio review showcasing Advance Costume Construction final project- 1910 day dress, sketches from figure drawing, and the start of a costume design portfolio. (PAC, 2012)

“Toni and Neno were about making sure we were prepared for the outside world…getting into the biz.” During her senior year, she assisted Toni at Yale University for Familiar, “it was an amazing opportunity to see how a repertory theatre runs versus college.”

group of people smiling
Senior end of year portfolio review’s theme: Sleep deprivation but make it fashion. Costume department undergrad graduates with their favorite mentors for the last time. 
Left to Right: Cierra Coan, Anastazia Whittle, Neno Russell, Toni-Leslie James, and Sophia Choi (2015)

She received the Allen Lee Hughes fellowship after graduation, which began her career in the costume department at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theatre. She later became Assistant to the Costume Director, Joseph L. Salasovich, then got a title bump to Associate Costume Director. “I help the shop run as efficiently as possible. Sometimes I do research to keep the designs accurate. I shop and source most things, assist in fittings, basically anything that isn’t the construction of costumes.”

film set with actors in costume

The age old question of how many costumers does it take to make an actor look good for a photo? Making the gentlemen look appropriately dapper during the photo shoot for The Heiress.  Left to right: Joseph P. Salasovich, James Whalen, Ivania Stack, Jonathan David Martin, Cierra Coan, Renee Little (Arena Stage 2019)
two people in a cardboard box

 Cierra having more fun playing in the box than dealing with the rental inside. Spending time mentoring the Allen Lee Hughes Fellow on the inner workings of a regional theater costume shop from assisting a designer to restocking. 
Left to right: Hiram Orozco and Cierra Coan (Arena Stage Costume Shop, 2017)

In 2016, Cierra designed Heathers, The Musical for the Red Branch Theatre in Ellicott City, MD. She also works with Toni each year when she comes to Arena. “VCU taught me the business side in a way that a lot of programs don’t. How to budget a show and stay on budget with sourcing. How to make a costume bible so anyone can put up a show after you’ve left.” 

performers on stage
Heathers, The Musical (Red Branch Theatre). Costume design by Cierra, photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

Compiled by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the January 2021 Theatre Alumni Newsletter