Tonight we open Millie at Boston Conservatory.I’m continually impressed by the talent and hard work of the Conservatory students. Aged 18-22, these kids have professional-level skills in acting, dance, and singing. They are not only a delight to watch, they’re also completely charming to hang out with. They are constantly encouraging and supporting each other in their quest to better their own art and eventually become working professional performers. Their fresh eyes and hearts remind me of the magic of live performance and why we do what we do.
This is my student crew, learning to sew name labels into costumes.
It’s been a busy few days here! I’m back at Boston Conservatory for the Winter Dance Concert... There are four pieces; two premiers and two reconstructions. My job as Head of Wardrobe is to keep all of the costumes in clean, working order, and to teach my student crew the basics of special-care laundry and backstage protocol.
Wardrobe is a position that often goes overlooked because of the misconception that, well, anyone can do laundry. In truth, anyone can be taught to do laundry, but there are specialized skills that most folks don’t need in their daily life. Many dance pieces and historical garments can’t be washed in a machine at all, but still have to look and smell fresh for each performance. And these days, most modern clothes have at least some synthetic content, making garment care much easier – but it also has the side effect of making most people unaware of how to properly care for a natural-fiber garment.
A lot of working wardrobe is also very personal: you have to get into another person’s space, make sure every garment they wear fits properly and facilitates the actor’s work. You might have to assist with makeup application or securing wigs. You will have to wash undergarments, deal with sweat, and occasionally take a half-eaten cough drop out of the mouth of someone about to walk onstage.
There’s a lot of trust involved, and as always, trust is earned, not demanded. The performers must know without a doubt that their costume will be clean and in full working order each day when they return to work. They must trust that when they come running offstage for a quick change, a quiet, confidant, encouraging wardrobe member will be there to facilitate the change. And they have to know that if they split their inseam, you’ll be ready and armed with safety pins. Like they say, if you’ve done your job right, no one will ever know you were there.
The cast of Boston Conservatory’s Way of the World.