Working in the Theatre: Wardrobe


[music] The costumes in My Fair Lady, it’s actually
one of my favorite shows we’ve all done so far. It’s everything from working class cockney
people in 1911 England to the Queen of Transylvania. So, we’ve got silks and chiffons and velvets
and laces and tiaras and jewelry but we also have wools and cotton aprons and layers of
petticoats and corsets that have been kind of sanded down or roughed up. So, when you come to see the show, you’re
going to see a little bit of everything. Catherine Zuber spent months and months and
months researching looking at all the little details that maybe you might not see. You might not see the lace and the bows on
the crinolines and the petticoats. So, when you watch the show at Lincoln Center,
when you take it all in, but look for the details, the small little things: the rhinestone
earrings or the men’s cufflinks and stuff like that that really makes a difference. [music] My role is assistant costume designer and
wardrobe supervisor. They are two very different jobs, and yet
they are very important to each other. So, as an assistant designer, I there pretty
much from the very beginning, and I work all the way up to a certain point to when we move
into the theatre, so I already have first-hand knowledge of why something was chosen, what
the design means, the history behind it, the colors, the certain fabrics. With Catherine Zuber, I’ve worked with her
many many times, and I sort of have a second language so I know when she’s thinking of
a certain fabric and I’ll be able to say “Yes, this’ll be able to be cleaned easily. This will hold up more.” Then, as the wardrobe supervisor, I like the
idea of keeping it looking exactly as we planned months ago. We work with the actors, we do fittings, we
start the production, and we make sure everyone is comfortable with the way they look. Some designers don’t involve the actors
so much in the concept, and I was very involved with the designer, Catherine Zuber. We talked a lot about Colonel Pickering was
an ex-army, now retired, been in India and so we have things like this little hat, which
I suggested to Cathy may be a fun thing to have. Nearly all my costumes have things that were
actually made for me. It’s really important to feel as if you
live in them, and that they aren’t costumes but they are clothes. There’s a really famous actor called Laurence
Olivier and he said, “I don’t really have the character until I have the right shoes,”
and I understand that because there’s something about the way you walk—which is not necessarily
the way you as an actor walk but the way the character walks—which is very important,
and the way you hold yourself, and everything. So, costumes inform your creative choices,
as an actor. I don’t need to look my best, if you see
what I mean. I’m very happy sometimes actually to wear
clothes that are a little too tight, as if that character had say… had that suit for
10-15 years. I mean when I was younger I didn’t have
my little belly, and so in a funny sort of way I think that should be celebrated as a
sort of part of the character. So, if there’s someone who is not a fashion
icon, which truthfully most characters in plays are not, I don’t think they should
look like fashion icons. I think they should look as if they are wearing
clothes, day to day clothes. [music] A swing dresser is a dresser that fills in
for a dresser track if a regular dresser can’t make the show. I am an internal swing, which is a little
different from a regular swing, because I am at the show every night and I am available
in case I need to go on. So, I learn all of the dressing tracks whereas
at other shows other swings may only know one or two tracks and they get called in as
needed. I work mainly with our wardrobe supervisor
Patrick Bevilacqua: he’ll let me know who’s in, who’s out, what needs to be done that
night, and also, of course, the dressers and the actors. On a typical day, if I’m doing someone’s
track, I’ll go in an hour before half hour, we have a group meeting to see what actors
are in, what actors are out. I’ll go in to the dressing rooms, check
the costume pieces, help my actors get ready, then look over notes and do the track. On a day that I’m not a dresser, I typically
run errands, paint shoes, fix jewelry. There’s always something to do, just because
the show is open doesn’t mean that our work is done. Let’s start with these shoes in the back. These are going to be for your embassy ball. The process for learning all the tracks…
the best case scenario is that I get two shows to train. One is that I will observe the dresser, and
the other I will do the track with the dresser observing me. From there, I will copy their notes and prepare
the best I can to do the track. In a not-as-great scenario which has happened,
I have a couple hours notice, no training, I get the notes, talk through some changes
with the actor, and then hope for the best. We should get these labeled and brought the
shoemaker to be rubbered. My system for keeping all the dressing tracks
straight is to take the dressers notes and copy them down on notecards, in shorthand,
so that I understand them. I’ll carry those cards around with me for
little reminders of what to do next. I majored in theatre-design-tech at Adelphi University. I concentrated in costume design and I really
started dressing in college, as a way to get in costume world and get my foot in the door
and then I found that I really enjoyed it. In the future, I would love to stardress. The idea of being able to support an actor
in such a large role, I think would be very rewarding, also so challenging and fun. How’s everything going? Great. Good. How’s that going? Good. Let’s go check the men on the other side
of the hallway. How’s he doing? Is he okay? Are they all doing stuff in there? Good? I’m a dresser, so essentially what I do
is I take care of the costumes for 3 of the actors for My Fair Lady. Colonel Pickering, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and [Professor Zoltan] Karpathy I have a very good visual memory for costumes
once I get used to them and know how they’re working in the show. Co-workers can make fun of me because when
they come by my dressing rooms they see that I perfectly space the hangers, and I make
a joke that I used a ruler, but it’s pretty much a visual thing. Somehow, it looks more organized, and I think
more appealing to the actor to walk in and see their costumes all perfectly prepped. That’s something I take pride in as a dresser. I prep their clothes, I make sure they look
pristine for the performance and I do changes throughout the show as well. I will make sure characters make changes from
one costume to the next depending on the scenes. We’re ironing shirts, I’m steaming costumes,
and I take care of tiny repairs of the costumes as well—making sure that they always look
good for the actors. I actually went to school in the city at New
York University for educational theatre, so I thought I maybe wanted to teach drama. I took a costume design class, and after that
I became very infatuated with costumes. I thought I wanted to design, I tried that
road for a little while, then found that the backstage area is something I really wanted
to focus my interest. Worked a lot at the Public Theatre, Shakespeare
in the Park, lots of places like that. Just kept building my way up. I was primarily self-taught, so I learned
a lot of my sewing skills and techniques, prepping clothes, taking care of clothes,
primarily through the internet. The future step could be to maybe become a
supervisor on Broadway. So, I’m hoping that maybe someday I’ll
develop a really nice relationship with a supervisor that I’m with that maybe willing
to take me under their wing and guide me into an assistant role. I do think that would be exciting for me. The wardrobe department everyday comes in
and does preparation of all the clothes, we make sure everything is washed and dried,
all stains are removed, everything is ironed, snaps are repaired, hems are put back up,
we check all the hats, all the jewelry, all the shoes… every single day to prepare for the show later
that night. So, we do everything in house at Lincoln Center. We have a full range of steamers, irons, ironing
boards, every supply that we could possibly need. We have hundreds of different colors of threads
and needles of every size: upholstery needles and surgical needles that are curved for some
of the hats. We have every range of pins. It really is quite impressive to see what
goes into a wardrobe room. So when all the clothes come in for repairs,
we do two sides. The dressers come in, put the repaired clothing
on the rack, they write down the notes over here, so when Tom or Livy come in the next
day, they will go over to the rack, see what the note is, they’ll take the costume piece,
and they’ll actually do the repair. This is one of the camisoles that the Eliza
Doolittle wears and it’s made to look kind of old and worn out and washed. So there’s little repairs that we’ve done. A little hand-stitching, a little pin-pricks,
and it’s made to look like it’s been washed and worn many many times by Eliza Doolittle. And of course the snaps are for the quick
change, when she has to get in and out of it very quickly. It’s all snapped together. The team works together in many many many
different ways. One can’t work individually, we all need
the help of each other. It’s presetting clothes, it’s helping
with quick-changes, and that’s why it’s important to get a team that supports each other. Rose, do you have his gloves. I went to University of Buffalo for History
and Museum Studies, my original intention was to be a costume curator but all my friends
were in theatre. So, I found my own talent to come together
and be a part of that. I began at TDF’s costume collection, that’s
what brought me to New York. And while I was there, I learned period styles
and met a lot of really great designers and assistant designers, that kind of took me
to the next step of getting out of the collection and into Broadway work. My very first Broadway job was A Midsummer’s
Night Dream with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The way that Americans do it and the way the
British do it are two very different things. What I found with the British is that costumes
are not very precious to them. They realize that costumes are only really
there to support the design and the show and the actor. Where we are kind of too tentative about it. Look at this beautiful, beautiful fabric. I like to do the tail like this when I have
my quick cross. But that’s the kind of love we have for
the show. And you’ll see also the amount of snaps
also that are involved in getting her into it. And we do a silver one here to line up to
see the silver one there is her first snap. I didn’t know that! The relationship between a star dresser and
the actor is a very intimate relationship I would say. Being a dresser, we often see the actors in
a state of undress. So, we learn to build a trust with each other
and a report, so that we have a very successful relationship so we can get the job done without
worrying about all the other issues. You hope, and pray, that the first day you
meet your dresser that this is going to be someone you get on with! When I met Dean, I knew within about 5 seconds
that we were going to get on. We share a sense of humor, he’s extremely
efficient, he’s incredibly thoughtful, and after a while when you get to know someone
and vise versa you begin to know how they think. It’s like a sort of relationship, in a way. We laugh until we cry sometimes. Sometimes we’re laughing so much in here
that I almost miss my entrance. This is something that Dean does, he does
my bowtie. There was one day with Allan where I had a
crazy change moment. One of the smoking jackets that I wear, I
have to be dressed onstage by the Butler. What happened was that something got tangled. And I got the arm mixed up, and there was
something in the pocket, it had got itself into a scrunch. So, I did jump off very worried that he wasn’t
going to be able to get it, that he might be upset, or flustered during the scene. Surprisingly, when he came off for his next
quick change, he seemed happy as a clam and said he fixed it, and that it wasn’t a problem. [music] [places call] [Sings The Rain in Spain] Quick changes are something that an actor
makes from one scene to the next and sometimes even within a scene, that happens in most
big musicals, and the changes are between 11 and 13 seconds long. We set up the quick changes early on in tech. We’ll do a tech day, where the director
says, “Today we’re going to run the quick changes.” We’ll get the dresser on with the actors
or actresses, figure out where it’s going to happen onstage, either on deck or a set
piece, could be in the wings or in the hallway, and we choreograph it and figure it out so that everyone makes the change but still remains safe. The quick change timing is really dependant
on the location of the quick change. What’s happening onstage – sometimes you’re
timing it to music, or there’s a specific cue that you know you need to get the actor
back onstage. Usually what we do, is we have laundry baskets
that I label with gaff tape, and I’ll label the location and possibly the actors or character’s
name so that I know what that basket is designated for. I will put the items in that basket, take
it backstage to the location of the quick change, I will lay out clothes, pants will
go over chairs, shoes will come on sometimes maybe with a shoe horn, there’s also something
we do called pooling where if you have a dress you can sort of lay it down, making it open
so the actor can easily step into it. Quick changes seem impossible to begin with
sometimes because you may have 30 seconds. But like everything, you think, “Oh, I’ll
never get this.” Everybody’s a bit nervous, and when you’re
nervous your hands shake and you can’t do a button up or you’ll miss something. It just gets easier. Then you think, “How did I ever feel that
was impossible?” Oh, did the hem come out? Great. I’ll bring this to red room. We’ll bring it back to you when it’s ready. Thanks Jocelyn. The costumes go through a lot of wear and tears. Almost everyday there’s hems that come out,
there’s rips in seams, jewelry gets ripped on and off in quick changes so it’s repairing
the clasps and replacing rhinestones. Almost everyday shoes need to be painted because
they’re scuffed on the stage. At the end of the night, all the dressers
bring laundry into the wardrobe room. Then all the costumes are hung up to air-dry
up for the night. We come in the next day, and all the laundry
is done, every single costume piece has been checked through. They get sweat stains, they get makeup stains,
we see many many many different things that have to disappear by the next day. My biggest fear is a ripped costume right
before an actress goes on scene, or broken zipper. Another fear I have is when clothes go out
for dry-cleaning on Sunday, that when we get back into the theatre on Tuesday they don’t
come back. Then we’re kind of in a lot of trouble. [music] In order to do this type of work, you need
a lot of different skills, having an ability to work well with costumes and fabrics and
understand how they lay on the body, how they lay on a hanger. It’s definitely helpful to know how to sew
on a button, maybe fix the hem of a pant. I think you have to be very personable. Have some personality, be very excited, keep
things very light… [I Could Have Danced All Night music] [Audience Applause] I carry around an apron that has things like
safety pins, I have a little contraption that hold threaded needles, so that I’m prepared
in case someone tears a pair of pants or a dress. But, within a limited timeframe, sometimes
there’s only so much you can do. So, there is a big level of stress that can
come with it, but that can tend to be an exhilarating feeling of having to fix a problem in a very
short amount of time. [music] You know, being in a theatre show, it’s
a living, breathing, different organism every night and things go wrong. We’re not robots. I’ve been an actor for 45 years. If you can’t handle what is a tiny crisis,
I use air quotes to heavily invoke it isn’t a crisis, it’s a moment of slight imperfection. It’s fine. It’s just part of the job. [Wouldn’t It be Loverly? music]

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