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An Ode to My Dressers

July 9, 2012

Out here in the land of summer repertory theatre, I’ve found a few things that have helped save my work from being under-minded by the exhausting schedule.  The first is coffee–not A LOT, but Just Enough.  A little jolt of caffeine helps carry the energy during those two-show days (comprised of completely different plays) from the matinée through the evening performance.  Meditation follows closely behind, the practice of which has been helping me stay level during a period in my life that does not allow for much time to process all that is going on.  But the greatest asset I have going for me this season, that helps keep me focused when I get to the theater and throughout the show, are three women serving on the wardrobe staff who at some point are responsible for dressing me.

Caroline, B., and Brenna. Aren’t they lovely?

These ladies keep me grounded and looking great at every performance.  While I take care of my make up, they each help dress me in the rest of my costume.  This month that includes corseting, buttoning and hooking bodices and layers of skirts, as well as curling and pinning my hair–plus affixing two wigs and a fall to my head at various times throughout the three shows I’m in (never all at once though, thank goodness).  These are things that would not only hard for me to do on my own–these are things literally impossible for me to do without help.  Not only that, the time I would spend freaking out about getting myself ready to go on stage would leave me flustered and unable to focus on my work at hand–namely, acting.  Knowing that I have such competent help, I can spend the time I take getting dressed to go over any notes from the previous run of the show, run my lines, or do a little vocal warm up.  I know everything will get done in time, so I can relax and worry about other things.

During the performance, I check in with my dressers backstage to make sure I still look in one piece.  If I have a loose thread, they’ll trim it back.  If my hairnet has a hole in it, they’ll stitch it up.  And all before the next scene!  B. and Brenna are responsible for my lightning fast quick changes in the musical, the choreography of which amazes me each time we do it.  Any costume changes also help me keep track of where we are in the show and at what point my character is in their through line.  What you wear and how you wear something onstage tells the audience and the actor a lot.  A good dresser will help maintain a costume designer’s section of the narrative by making sure the actor’s appearance is lining up appropriately.

Actors are, by nature, insecure.  When everything you do is exposed and left out to be scrutinized, you get very protective of little things, and the things you can seemingly control.  How you look (within the bounds set down by the costume designer and director) tends to fall into the latter category.  Consequently, an actor can get very particular about getting dressed.  There’s also nothing more immediately distracting to an actor than feeling uncomfortable in an outfit on stage.  They can get so caught up in how they look/don’t look, that they cease to be present, and by proxy stop working.  A good dresser will make sure everything is fitting properly, and if something isn’t they will have it fixed as soon as possible.  The wonderful thing about a trusting relationship with a dresser is knowing the dresser has the actor’s back, and is there to help support them by taking care of this aspect of their performance.  As an actor who is working to focus on my scene partner, while including the audience in the action, while maintaining the 4th wall, while finding my light, while listening for my cues, while possibly speaking in a dialect, while dancing and/or singing, and while, oh, that’s right, ACTING, it’s nice to have one less thing to worry about.  On top of all of this, all three of these women listen to my inane chatter, smile, and nod, giving me that extra boost of confidence right before I have to go onstage and bear my soul (or someone’s, surely).  And confidence is a very valuable commodity in performance.

So to Caroline, who has to pin ALL of my hair; to B., who has to roll up my pants to my knees for one entrance, only to roll them down at an exit a moment later; and to Brenna who has to curl so much of my hair every time I see her; to them I would like to say “Thank you.”  Ladies: I could not do it without you.  This is truth!

(If this all seems terribly gushy-mushy, please check out this NY Times article discussing the star dressers of Broadway.  Hopefully that will help convince you of the sincerity of feeling I hoped to convey here.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. California Triple-Threat permalink
    July 10, 2012 2:52 pm

    I had the help of several dressers when I did a production of Phantom. Several of us girls had to change from multi-layered dresses, lace-up boots, and wigs, into tutus, pointe shoes, and hair pieces. I think our quick change was all of 60 seconds! The dressers would help preset our costumes and wigs and also put things back so they could be found the next show. Their help was INVALUABLE! The best part of this story is my dresser became one of my best friends, who I still talk to every day!

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      July 10, 2012 5:47 pm

      Lovely! Yes–dressers are integral to a show going off without a hitch, and are some of the people who’s work is at its best when it goes unnoticed by an audience, which sometimes makes it thankless. But it’s so important!

  2. The College Theatre Dork permalink
    July 10, 2012 4:21 pm

    Huzzahs for the dressers! I’ve worked as a one for a few shows now, and the work they put into it is astounding.

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      July 10, 2012 5:47 pm

      Absolutely–Huzzahs all around!

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