By Morgan Brizee
From growing up just wanting her own pair of store bought jeans to making costumes for Hollywood, today Rae Robison is teaching Humboldt’s own stars.
Robison, 49-year-old director of theatre at Humboldt State University, teaches costume design, theatre history and costume history classes. She has taught at Humboldt for 10 years and loves the students, faculty and environment that Humboldt brings. She has been in feature films and stage productions herself as well as costume designing for them. Robison has a MFA from the University of California Irvine in drama, a BA from Missouri Valley College in theatre-acting/directing as well as a BA in English/literature. She grew up around her mother and her aunts working at her grandmother’s drapery business but that wasn’t what pushed her to sew and costume design.
“I never wanted to learn how to sew, because I always had to wear homemade outfits that I thought were pretty terrible,” Robison said. “All I ever wanted in my whole life was a store bought pair of jeans and so I was very reluctant to do it.”
It wasn’t until she moved overseas and found it difficult to find maternity clothes that she caved and decided to learn how to sew. Because she was already a performer, and having learned how to sew, it was a natural decision to become a costume designer. Robison eventually became a costume designer for television, film and even working with Disney on theme park designs. She has had the opportunity to go places most haven’t been before.
“I shot out in the Mohave desert once and I never thought I would go out and spend several weeks in the Mohave desert,” Robison said. “It’s rigorous. It’s six days a week, 12 hour days for six, eight weeks at a time. It’s exhausting but it’s fun.”
Robison hasn’t been on that many feature films herself but she was on Larceny which featured stars like Tyra Banks and rapper Heavy D. Robison as a costume designer would prefer to work on films rather than television shows or for theme park designs. When it comes to Robison being in her own spotlight, she prefers the stage over anything else.
“There’s something about performing live on stage and getting that response immediately that you don’t have in film,” Robison said.
When Robison gets tired of acting in film she’ll do theatre, she said, and then when she gets tired of theatre, she’ll do costume design. It is like a wheel that has choices for her to keep switching when she gets tired of one she can do another. She feels that in every job she does, there is a connection to another.
“For me it’s an extension of creating a character as an actor,” Robison said. “As a costume designer I am every actor in that show.”
Working around the clock as a costume designer takes away time from the family. So Robison decided to switch to something that would give her more time with her children and husband.
“I realized that I was working in film and I maybe saw my kids a half a day a week and they were 10 and 12 at the time,”Robison said. “I thought I would like something where I could spend some more time with my own children and it has been great.”
Robison now has been teaching a total of 15 years. She is close to all her current and past students knowing all of their names and keeping in contact of how they are doing. Robison makes the students feel like family, like adding another child to her growing family of adopted students.
“I often know more about them than they probably want me to, but I’ve had a really good ability to have a good relationship with all the students that we have,” Robison said. “Having that time to spend with my students and getting them out into the world of working in what they want to work in is just awesome.”
Derek Lane, 53-year-old production manager and resident scenographer, said that Robison puts her students first, sometimes to a fault, but that she has a great relationship with them.
“She helps make this place a family,” said Lane. “She has high expectations in and out of the classroom, but pushes the students to be dedicated and professional, all the while being a cheerleader and nurturing their artistic aspirations.”
Roman Sanchez, 19-year-old Humboldt student and stage manager for Peter and the Starcatcher, said that he has known her for two years and in that two years she has been his theatre mentor and professor. He also stated that he believes that Robison is a strong leader with a lot of knowledge.
“She knows what kind of music we listen to, what television shows we like, which then allows her to connect with us on a personal level,” Sanchez said. “She treats us all as individuals rather than just a statistical student of hers.”
Jillian Park, 25-year-old Humboldt State student and theatre major said that because of Robison’s experience and expertise she doesn’t just teach, she lives and works what she teaches in the classroom.
“As a student it was really cool to see her work from grad school all the way to some of her professional designs,” Park said. “It something that you don’t get from a lot of other professors.”
When Robison looks to what is in store for the future she sees more golf practicing on her relaxing days off and for the theatre department to grow and get better as time goes on.
“I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing and help grow our department and get some more faculty back on board and get some more majors in our line,” Robison said.