On a recent episode of “The Newman Bond” podcast, adjunct theater instructor Christy Cunningham Railsback shared her thoughts and experiences on the art of costuming.
“I’ve been sewing since I was a small child,” Railsback said. “My grandmother taught me, and my mother always made all our clothes. That was just the thing you did. Then when I was in high school, I started making them for myself.”
Later, when she had kids, Railsback sewed lots of doll clothes and Halloween costumes for them. She remembered an extra challenging piece — a tetradactyl costume — for her 5-year-old son.
When her two kids entered high school, they both became active in drama. Railsback volunteered to help make costumes for the theater productions and found she really liked the work. She also started working in community theater because of her knack for it.
To expand on her skillset, Railsback returned to Wichita State University as a graduate student. Shortly thereafter, in 2001, she accepted a position at Newman University as resident costume designer. Railsback’s first project was to costume “The Imaginary Invalid,” which was the first-ever production performed in the DeMattias Performance Hall on campus.
Railsback left Newman for a couple years but returned in 2004 and has remained ever since, costuming for a mix of theater and vocal music productions. In 2013, she began teaching Costume Design for the Stage and Makeup Design for the Stage.
In 2021, Railsback received a Mary Jane Teall Theatre award for costume design — her 10th such award in 20 years.
One of Railsback’s most recent projects was to create the costumes for “Contested Plains,” written by Ken Spurgeon and Deb Goodrich.
The docudrama is based on the book, “The Moccasin Speaks: Living as Captives of the Dog Soldier Warriors,” by Arlene Feldmann Jauken, the great-granddaughter of one of the survivors.
“I got to meet lots of interesting people, and all of the Cheyenne actors were Native Americans,” Railsback shared. “Many of them had their own costumes. And I was really intrigued to ask them about what does this symbolize? What is the significance of this?”
Over her 25-odd years of work in costume design, Railsback estimates she’s created more than a couple thousand costumes. One piece that garnered a lot of attention was Milky White, created for a production of “Into the Woods.” Railsback said it took about 70 hours to make.
In addition to her work at Newman, Railsback helps with wardrobe for touring companies or individuals who have shows in Wichita. Artists she’s worked for include Pink, Carrie Underwood and Rush. She also worked for the touring production of “The Lion King.”
In the past, Railsback also worked for the Music Theatre Wichita.
Ultimately, Railsback’s storied career in costume design has brought her so much joy and creative freedom — something so many theater lovers have also benefitted from.
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