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High school costume designer looks toward future

For seventeen-year-old Evan Riley, theatre plays a big role in his life.

Evan is the costume manager at Churchill High School and has designed and sewn over thirty of the costumes used in many of the school plays himself.

He even made one costume in a single night.

Evan is self-taught and does not come from an art or costume-design background.

“I’d say I’m mostly self-taught; a lot of YouTube videos. No one in my family has passed down sewing or anything,” Riley said.

Evan got involved with theatre in middle school and started creating costumes in high school.

“Junior year, I actually started making them with ‘Titus Andronicus’ and most recently ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’ I made like 18 whole costumes and then everything else was accessories,” he said.

His designs are made all from scratch- from head to toe.

“This cape is actually made from 15 different fabrics,” he said while pointing at an intricately-designed black cape.

One of his most elaborate dresses was constructed by hand during his school’s winter break, complete with Swarovski crystals!

“The hand-beading alone probably took like four days,” Riley said.

Evan also researches the characters in the production so that he can make something authentic yet unique.

“With this costume, I was trying to get a lot of the texture that the audience could see and pick up from the stage and a hint of shiny elements that would glisten in the stage lights,” Riley said while holding a complex black costume.

His work and determination is getting noticed by universities and teachers.

Susan Mann has been teaching at Churchill for ten years. She said she has been in awe of Evan.

“He kind of developed the whole thing on his own, the whole program of a student being in charge of the costume design,” the English teacher said.

“It’s very rewarding to see something that you can create from scratch and having just an idea in your head and see it come to life,” Riley said about his creations.

Evan said his Churchill theatre family have allowed him to thrive.

“They have trust in me and they know that whatever happens I am going to make them look good on stage. I’m very fortunate that my directors let me do this for the department because some departments may just say we’re just going to rent everything,” he said.

He is also thankful to his parents who have supported his passion along the way.

“Our game room upstairs has turned into my sewing room. It’s kind of like a complete mess during the show just because I am making all the costumes so fast!”

Evan is exploring different college and plans to pursue a degree in Costume Design.

“I’ve been interviewing at multiple colleges, going and touring. I’ll definitely let you know my decision in May,” Riley added.

He said although he cannot take his costumes with him when he graduates, he hopes to see them used for future school plays.

“Now I’ve gotten to the point where I have all my work on display and I have people who I don’t know recognize my work, that’s very special. Maybe in the future I’ll see Churchill High School and one of the costumes I’ve made are being used in a different production,” Riley said.

He said theatre is like home.

“I feel proud by my work and finding more about myself through what I could do. If you told me two years ago I would be making all this stuff, I’d be like you are crazy! It’s really just about teaching yourself how to do things and a lot of hard work,” Riley said.

Ms. Mann said Evan has inspired his fellow students.

“You can’t get more authentic… following your bliss than what Evan did.”

To see more of Evan’s designs, click here.

Discover the NEISD way, where our educators celebrate students and help them uncover their passion.

Ashley Speller