Monday, August 31, 2009

Yesterday I amazed even myself on a trip to the Mall of America.
Here is how I got conned into going to the Mega Mall.
Mom: Well I think I'm going to go into Goodwill* and see if I can find anything to wear to the wedding.*
Me: Mom, no. You are not going to find black tie at the Goodwill. We'll go to the mall when you come to visit.
Mom: Really? Are you sure? Do you think they'll have something?
Me: Yes. We'll go to Nordstom Rack and find you something really nice.
Mom: OK
So we go to The Rack. I got a little distracted by some Smart Wool socks but then I switched into costume girl mode and found a fabulous dress for my mom By Alex Evenings.
It was kind of magical that we found it and even the cashier was impressed with our find.
It is absolutely wonderful and after a little altering it will be perfect for the wedding.
I have to admit that I feel very skilled. Not only did I find my mom the perfect dress but I also altered it. So my dresser skills carry over into real life and have come in very handy during this summer's wedding season.
*Mom claims she said she was going to an upscale second hand store, not Goodwill.
*Wedding is Black Tie requested and is causing my parents stress and confusion as they try to figure out what is appropriate attire and come to grips with my step father buying a black suit that was made in this decade, not his grey suit from 1973.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The most successful

When I was in college one of the toughest things I had to do was to convince my parents that I really could work in theater and support myself.
The first summer I work in summer stock I worked crazy hours and made no money. My parents knew how much I worked because the theater was in the same town as my dad. That fall I needed some money for a car repair so I went to the bank of Mom and when the bank of Mom would not approve my loan I went to the bank of Dad. The Bank of Dad told me that he would give me this loan but it would be the last loan and that if I was going to work in theater I was going to have to figure out how to not ask him for money.
Since I was in my junior year I felt a little past the point of switching majors I decided that I would have to make it work.
Also by this time I loved what I was doing.
So I've worked hard over the years and been smart with my money and with work. Sometimes with work it is feast of famine meaning that there will be times when there is more work than I could ever handle followed by times when there is no work at all. But I think that this pressure to prove to my parents that my job is real and can support me has put me in a better financial state than my siblings who did not have to prove that nursing or engineering were good careers. My brother has yet to land a job in his field and my sister quit nursing after a couple years.
So as I pointed out to my dad a couple years ago, technically I'm his most successful kid.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Advice from Musical Theater

Yesterday was the official start of my part time gig in the costume shop.
The day started with the typical drama of theater when my cutter/draper called me the night before to see if I could give her a ride to work since her car had broken down. So out the window go my plans to run three miles before work and to stay a little later so I can leave early on Friday.
I started on lead boy pants as if I had never left and knew what I was doing. OK those men's pants with the flap front are hard but I survived. Then I put a new back on a vest and made a mock up for a skirt.
My favorite thing of being back in the shop is the musical selection. Oh how I have missed having access to every musical ever made.
After listening to MPR all morning which was really good and had a very confirming story on living adventurous lives from No map. No guide. No Limits I felt good about my decision to focus more on writing.
Yesterday's music was Wicked, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book and Gypsy the 2008 production with Patti LuPone.
The advice that I was able to get from musical theater yesterday was a gem from Gypsy "You gotta get a gimmick if you want to get ahead."
Ever since then I have been thinking, What is my gimmick? Is it my new found talent for hula hooping? Is it writing?
Probably half the fun in life is trying to find a gimmick.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Quick-Change Turrets

Yesterday I was reminded of a condition that I like to call Quick Change Turrets. No one I am working with right now has QCT. But I was reminded of the condition during a conversation yesterday and I thought it would make a good blog post.
Quick Change Turrets is when an actor comes off stage for a quick change and begins swearing. It should be noted that they aren't actually swearing at their dresser but just swearing in the stress of having to change a suit or dress in 30 seconds.
The pressure of changing an entire costume in 30 seconds causes this. They worry they will not make an entrance or that if they make the entrance it will be without some essential item like pants. So they begin a string of swear words that would make a sailor proud.
Not every actor is prone to QCT. Some actors use quick change time to worry about if the audience loves them or not. Some talk about other outside of work things. During a quick change the perfect actor will not try to "help". "Helping" can be defined as anything other than standing still and allowing other people to dress them. Perfect actors will stand still and resist the urge to help button or zip things. They will not reach for their shoes while you are trying to zip a bodice.
A wardrobe girl or quick change artist must have a tough skin. Sometimes we have to remember that an actor is not swearing at us but at the change or the suit or the fact that the playwright only gave them 30 seconds to change a costume.
It is important to remember that in two weeks the change will be so smooth and fast it will feel like you have tons of time. You and your actor will be joking about drinking cocktails or smoking cigarettes during the change because that is how much time they have. Quick Change Turrets will be a distant but funny memory.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I'm not Goth, I just wear a lot of black

Most of the summer has been below average, temperature wise. But this last week has been in the 90's.
That is great. Summer finally arrived.
But it isn't so awesome when most of your wardrobe is black.
People who work backstage wear black. This is so you will blend into the darkness of backstage instead of sticking out in a white shirt. It even gives this tip in the Backstage Handbook that I had in college.
The majority of my wardrobe is black. I have a drawer that is devoted to black jeans and another drawer that is devoted to black shirts and tops. I have a black hoodie for every day of the week. Sometimes despite the fact that I am a grown up people will think that I am still stuck in some high school goth phase. Despite my black converse they never think I am going through a ninja phase.
It has been 90 degrees for the last week. On really hot days like today I wish that I owned less black.
Today for example I went outside and set up the new hose hider for my condo. It was so hot out I nearly did not complete the task.
I also wish I owned less black when I am off from work. I long for different colors but standing in front of really cute tops that are not black I can't figure out when I would wear them.
The funny thing about wearing all this black in the heat is that once I get to work it is freezing cold. Seriously I wear a sweatshirt backstage and I am still cold. It is so cold that the actors don't even want to stand backstage when it is time for places.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stitchin and Bitchin

Well Monday starts a seven week gig working in a costume shop.
I have worked at this costume shop for the last eight years and actually feel like I owe this costume shop my eternal gratitude for the job that I have right now. It was in this windowless costume shop where I first sat next to my current boss and she asked me if I had ever worked on wardrobe for a show before. Oh it turned out that I had and the rest is history.
The thing is that I happen to be really shy. I would never have applied at the theater I work at now because I would have been convinced that I did not have the experience to work there. So thank goodness for the costume shop where I met my boss and got my job.
But this loyalty to the shop led to burnout as I was working full time as a wardrobe girl at night and full time as a stitcher during the day.
A couple years ago I had one of those awakening moments where I realized what I wanted to do was be a writer. I mean I have always written and I have filled up journals for the last decade but I wanted other people to read what I wrote. This meant that one of the jobs had to go.
The economy sucks which meant a little creative planning.
So now I am returning as a part time stitcher for a build on my terms, two days a week. I'll still have time to write and I'll have a little extra money/work for a while.
I'm sure I will have great stories to tell from this experience.
Conversations in the shop often range from musicals to politics to who would play you in the Hollywood version of your life story. We often talk about the TV sitcom about our shop which would be called Shop Talk. So hopefully it will be a good experience.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I want to be a Producer

Well I don't really want to be a producer but I sounded like one the other day.
The midwest is home to much severe weather and while it is unlikely that a tornado will make its way through downtown often the suburbs will experience a tornado touch down. This summer has not been full of much severe weather. It hasn't been hot meaning we haven't had the fronts moving through that would cause severe weather.
The other night we had some severe weather and the sirens were going off and there were tornados sighted in the suburbs so we had to go through what the protocol for severe weather was.
Basically it is to get everyone in one of the theaters as these are the safest spaces. So being the wonderful dresser I am I encouraged the cast to just keep singing/playing since they were already in the safest place they could be in.
Fortunately the storms went to the north of the city and we did not have to put my advice into action.
But I was told as I was giving my words of advice that I sounded like a producer.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Product I can't live without

OK well it is summer in MN which means wedding season is in full effect. So far this summer I have altered 1 bridesmaid dress, 1 wedding dress and I have one more bridesmaid dress that I will be altering soon. I have a cousin getting married in September.
I have been an attendant or bridesmaid at a number of weddings in my day. Actually being a personal attendant is like being a dresser so it is something that I already know how to do and am fairly prepared for.
With all these weddings I can't help but talk about my favorite item to bring to a wedding. Double stick tape.
Whenever I attend a wedding I always have a roll in my purse. Well except this one wedding where I actually forgot to bring it but totally could have used it.
Here are some uses for double stick tape at weddings.
1. Use it to make sure your strapless bridesmaid dress is not going to fall down or your wedding gown or whatever. Dress strap not staying where you want it. Tape it there.
2. Use it to hem a groomsman's/dad's/usher's pants. Cause seriously you know that one of these people will inevitably forget to get their pants hemmed. a few strategically placed pieces of double stick tape and they are ready to dance the night away.
3. Are your flower girl/ring bearer shoes a little too big. Stick a piece of double stick tape in the back of the show so that they have a better chance of staying on when they walk up the aisle.
4. Well it is still tape so it can be used to tape pretty much anything in place from vows at the podium to the order of the service. Whatever it's tape.
When navigating which double stick tape to buy a girl might be tempted by the "Hollywood Tape" that usually resides in the bra section of places like Target. It claims to be the "secret of Hollywood stars" If paying more for something in a pink package with the word Hollywood makes a person feel better go for it. It is your day and whatever. But really the secret is wardrobe girls and guys have been using plain old double stick tape long before they put it in glamourous "Hollywood" packaging.
I recommend taking your little shopping basket over to the office supply section and buying one of two thing. Either the Scotch brand double stick tape that I think comes with the yellow packaging or the 3M Poster tape. The poster tape is really nice because unlike the Scotch brand they put a little paper over one of the sticky sides so that it is covered until you want to use it. This means that you don't have to waste tape.
When the wedding is over you will probably still have tape left over. Save it for the next wedding you go to. You never know when you will have the chance to save someone's special day with you super awesome wardrobe powers.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Once I carried Steven Tyler's Luggage

I keep seeing little news blips about Steven Tyler falling off the stage at a performance at Sturgis.

Poor Steven Tyler.

So I can't say that I have worked with Steven Tyler although I did stand around waiting to carry his luggage to the limo after a performance a few years ago.
He was on the phone with Liv. He kept trying to hang up cause he was busy. He was like "Liv, I'll call you back. I'm working on the commercial for _________."
I have to say that he is much smaller in person than I think he is going to be. I mean I know that the stage makes people taller but he is really not very tall also he is skinny.
Waiting to carry Steven Tyler's luggage was one of the more awesome moments of my life. It was one of those times where I did not wish I had some "normal" day job where I did something boring like file TPS reports all day.
When you work backstage you have to be pretty cool about other people's fame. You can not act like a fan. It isn't professional. I mean think about it. Would you want to come to work and sign autographs for the people at your office? I mean it might be cool for a minute but it would get really old fast if people were trying to get you to sign something so for their daughters friend or whatever.
I must admit that this was one of those moments when it was hard to remain cool. I mean here I was, standing outside a rock star's dressing room.
So I took a breath and pretended to be a little bored. As in "Oh carry rock star luggage. Yeah I do that all the time." Eventually he finished on the phone and was whisked away in his Limo as quickly as he had arrived.
So anyway I hope he heals up quickly.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Laundry tip of the day

So you are going along in your day and you cut yourself. Maybe you nick yourself shaving or slice your finger in the kitchen or get a bloody nose. Unfortunately you get a little blood on your jeans or your favorite shirt.
Don't worry. Spit on it. That's right your own spit will get out your own blood. So if the blood hasn't dried give it a little spit.
Every time I tell an actor or a fellow costume person this they are amazed at how well it works.
I had a wardrobe friend who had kids and after she had her kids she had super spit and could get out not only her own spit but her children's spit as well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

the beginning

So how does a self-proclaimed shy girl end up in show business?
Trial and Error and an undecided major in college.
When I was four I dreamed of becoming a ballerina. I imagined wearing a tutu every day and pirouetting through life.
My mom enrolled me in a combination tap/ballet class only we did not have the money for tap and ballet shoes. This meant that for the tap portion of the class I wore a pair of brown Mary Jane’s. For the ballet portion of the class I wore my Spiderman bedroom slippers.
I began to dread going to class. This was not the ballet I had seen in little clips on Sesame Street. There were no pink slippers. There were no tutus and then there was that flap-ball-change which was not ballet at all.
The culmination of this class was a recital for the parents. I had already been in holiday pageants at my preschool and getting up in front of people was not for me. Most of the recital was spent with me red faced and crying on stage. The only good thing was that I got to wear a tutu.
My next flirtations with the stage came in late grade school through high school years. My mom got remarried landing me in the kid’s choir in my step dad’s church. My new aunt was the director of the choir, which could be a good thing if I had been able to sing. I couldn’t so I ended up changing the foam core set from clubhouse to Noah’s Arc. I also made sure the props got passed to the little kids.
I remained active in my church’s drama group through high school. During a dinner theater production my role was to be waitress. Not the waitress onstage but an actual waitress during the dinner theater portion. Since this was not what I signed up for and I was already a hostess at a restaurant I quit drama group.
At school I would show up to auditions only to chicken out before actually auditioning. I did show up to help build sets which was kind of fun.
In high school my dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up changed. I wanted to be an editor of Sassy magazine. I practiced for this by being the news editor on my high school paper. But I was still shy especially when it came to interviewing people.
Fast forward to college during a time when it was just becoming ok to enter with an undecided major. So that is what I did. I loved English and thought I might do something with that so I ended up with an English Professor advisor.
*Small world story my advisor in Iowa was a childhood friend with my Aunt’s sister who lived in New York. Meaning my advisor grew up in the same town in Upstate New York as my Mom.
So my English advisor advised me to a theater class and I was hooked. I volunteered in the costume shop sewing muscles on an alien costume and then I worked wardrobe for a show. From then on there was no turning back. I had found my place on the stage was actually backstage. I was in show business, baby.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Dresser Diaries

Ok so people blog about everything right. People blog about cake and people blog about cooking. People blog about parenthood and pet ownership. Some even blog about work.
I've always thought my job was interesting. When books like The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada I thought wouldn't it be cool to write about my job.
But I didn't. Why? Because while most people can relate to being a nanny not a lot of people can imagine what it is like to be a dresser at a theater.
That's what I do. I'm a dresser or if you want to be fancy I'm a wardrobe technician.
When you go and see a play and an actor goes off stage only to return seconds later in a completely different costume, that's me and my fellow wardrobians.
But I do more than that really. I pass out laundry. I do minor repairs or sometimes major repairs. I make sure my actors have water or tissues or Throat Coat Tea.
While theater goers are enjoying their dinner or just leaving for the show I am getting to work. After the audience has filed out and gotten in their cars I am bringing laundry to the laundry room to be cleaned for the next performance.