Toni-Leslie James

Co-Chair of Design and Yale Repertory Theatre Resident Costume Designer

Toni-Leslie James has designed costumes nationally and internationally for every entertainment venue: feature film, television, opera, dance, industrials, regional theatre, and Broadway. For Broadway, she has designed Birthday Candles, Flying Over Sunset, Bernhardt/Hamlet (Drama Desk Award, TONY nomination) Come From Away (Hewes Design Award, Drama Desk nomination), August Wilson’s Jitney (TONY and Drama Desk nominations), Lucky Guy, The Scottsboro Boys, Finian's Rainbow, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, King Hedley II, One Mo’ Time, The Wild Party, Marie Christine, Footloose, The Tempest, Twilight Los Angeles 1992, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches & Perestroika, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Jelly’s Last Jam (Hewes Design Award, TONY and Drama Desk nominations).  

Off Broadway, she has designed multiple productions for The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, Soho Rep, Lincoln Center Theatre, The New York Theatre Workshop, and over 15 productions for the NY City Center Encores series. Regionally, her work was seen in productions for La Jolla Playhouse, Steppenwolf, Hartford Stage, the Long Wharf, Baltimore Center Stage, the Old Globe, Mark Taper Forum, Arena Stage, Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, the Round House Theatre, Seattle Rep, the Shakespeare Theatre, Berkley Rep, the Alliance Theatre, Goodspeed Playhouse, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, ACT, and Crossroads Theatre Co. Internationally, she has designed for The Abbey Theater in Ireland, The Young Vic, the Royal Court Theater, the Chichester Theater Festival, and currently on the West End in the UK. She has also designed for the Athens Greek Festival, and Radio Dansmark TV in Denmark. She was the Head Costume Designer for Whoopi on NBC, and the CBS soap opera, As the Word Turns, as well as having designed four specials for WNET/13’s Great Performances series. Her design work has been displayed in nine major museum and college exhibitions including a 2006 retrospective of her career at The American Museum of Natural History "Designing Woman: Inside The Life And Career of Costume Designer, Toni-Leslie James", the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library 2008–2009 exhibition "Curtain Call: A Century of Designing Women", and “More Life!: Angels in America at Twenty” at The Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco.

Ms. James has garnered a total of 43 costume design nominations or awards for her contributions to various theatrical productions including three Tony Award nominations, a Drama Desk Award and five additional Drama Desk nominations, two Hewes Design Awards, The Connecticut Critics Circle Award, the Irene Sharaff Young Masters Award for Costume Design Excellence, the Obie Award for Sustained Costume Design Excellence, the LILY Award for Contributions in Design for the American Theater, the Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration, and the 2019 USITT Distinguished Achievement Award in Education.

Ms. James received a B.F.A. in Theatre from The Ohio State University. She was an Associate Professor and Head of Design at the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Theatre, where she taught from 2007–2019. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by Sewanee, The University of the South, in 2018.