Kendra Rai – a letter of appreciation from CAA Gwen Grastorf

Last night, our resident costume designer Kendra Rai won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Costume Design for The Green Bird.

Helen Hayes

For those of us that have worked with Kendra, it is a much-deserved recognition of her work.  The entire Constellation section of the balcony was cheering at the top of our lungs for her.  Kendra not only creates mind-boggling, imaginative, vivid outfits beyond our wildest imagining, but she’s also an incredibly kind, dedicated, and generous person.   She’s always a wonderful part of the design team, and her designs transform actors into legends, beasts, myths, and magic.

I first met Kendra working on Constellation’s production of Feydeau’s farce A Flea In Her Ear in 2009.  Her eye for color, shape, and crisp detail was impressive right from the get-go, and as we got our costumes, it was striking how much her work helped make each character even more distinct, even more defined.   She has since worked on many Constellation shows, infusing each with her unique spirit, her hard work, and her sense of whimsy and delight.

The Green Bird presented unique challenges – a magical fairy-tale world with talking trees, moving statues, dancing waters, kings and peasants.  When we first sat down for her design presentation, the table was full of oohs and ahhs from the cast as they got their costume sketches (and sometimes nervous laughter as we realized exactly how little we would be wearing.)   One of the most astonishing things about Kendra’s costumes is that they almost always look EXACTLY like the design renderings – which is very unusual.  The rendered drawings are made months ahead, but one of Kendra’s unique skills is to know precisely what she wants and how to achieve it.

The Green Bird also had a great deal of movement, so it was important for the actors to have some costume pieces in rehearsal.  Kendra provided mock-ups that could be used far before the real costume was built.  Matt Wilson’s character, Truffaldino, had a bouncy suit (made of a large yoga ball and two kickballs) that provided endless laughs, both during rehearsals and in the run of the show.

Matt & Katie working a scene in their rehearsal costumes.

Matt Wilson!

Kendra also collects a team of incredibly skilled artisans to work on her projects.  For The Green Bird, she enlisted Anna St. Germain, as well as wig artisan Kirby and many other beaders, stitchers, crafters, and artists.  She surrounds herself with talented individuals who she can trust to do time-consuming, skillful, and amazing work.

Anna & Kendra do adjustments to Rex’s outfit.

Anna & Kendra fitting a costume on Rex

Everyone is very excited about the design for Metamorphoses.  The mythic quality of this show lends itself to bright colors, outrageous accessories, and transformation.  Each actor is playing many characters, and as the costume fittings have progressed the actors seem to be getting more and more excited to see their costumes and try them out.

Costume renderings:

When I ran into Kendra on Monday night on the dance floor at the post-Helen-Hayes after party, she spoke with me about how it was going.  Since all of the costume pieces have to get wet in the pool, she told me she has been putting pieces of them on and standing in her shower, to make sure the fabric works, and isn’t too see-through.  This is a perfect example of her cheerful practicality – she cares deeply about how the costume affects the performance, and works non-stop to make sure that each actor feels confident, supported, and wonderful onstage.  She’s a true blessing, and we were all so thrilled to see her work acknowledged amongst the brightest stars of the DC theatre community.

Kendra & Anna working hard during tech, backstage at Source.

Kendra and Anna


3 thoughts on “Kendra Rai – a letter of appreciation from CAA Gwen Grastorf

  1. Anna St Germain

    Gwen, we all know how amazing it is to work with Kendra, but it is so appreciated to hear it from the people we costume. This is a beautiful article and as part of the Kendra design team I have to say thank you. It is about time the DC theatre community outwardly recognized our talented friend.

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