Alum Spotlight: Devario Simmons (MFA ’16)

actors perform on stage

When Devario was an undergraduate student at Clemson University, his costume design was nominated at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Toni-Leslie James, then head of Costume Design at VCUarts, was one of the judges. She got in touch with the head of design at Clemson to see if Devario would be interested in getting a master’s degree.

devario at vcu

Devario says VCU’s design program offered him a chance to become well-rounded in the craft. “I was able to get a lot of real work experience,” he says, “whether working with Toni on her Broadway and regional shows or working in local theaters.”

His experience as a Black student was positive as well. “VCUarts is a very open and accepting place,” he says. “My main mentor was a Black woman, so the space that she cultivated around us made space for everyone.”

During his last semester, he got an offer to be a resident assistant at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, where he was able to assist designers that work in New York and around the country. His VCU connection again paid off when Toni asked him to be associate designer for Come From Away in its global franchise. “That job pushed me to New York to make me more available,” Devario says.

As for being a Black designer, Devario says, “If it’s a Black show, people want to use Black designers … people inside those teams that understand that world. When I go into a show that’s not about my experience directly, I have to prove that I can be better than the next person in the room.”

devario at come from away event

Written by Liz Hopper and Jerry Williams for the July 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter

Lead image: Still from a promotional video for Thoughts of a Colored Man (Baltimore Center Stage). Co-costume design by Devario Simmons and Toni-Leslie James.