Production meetings are a time for all departments to get together and discuss problems, concerns, and plans for getting to opening night with ease. Make plans to attend this one-hour meeting once a week. It is the job of the Assistant to the Director to notify you of the day, time and location of these meetings. Production meetings will answer such questions (or if they don’t, you should ask) as how many dressers will be needed, when dress parade will be held, how many holdover slots have been scheduled and other important dates. You should be prepared to answer questions such as what problems you have encountered when recruiting crew members, etc. If for some reason you can’t attend a production meeting, call the Costume Designer and get an update after the meeting.
Calling Your Crew
Use the list of people who signed up at backstage night as a starting place for building your crew. Wayne Olson should have this list. These people came out and indicated an interest and it is only right to start your search there. After you have called these people if you still need crew, call other people that you know from previous crews, contact the Costume Designer for a list of suggestions, or send out a plea for help on the volunteer e-mail list. Try to have a good mix of volunteers. Because dressing involves skills we are all familiar with, it’s a perfect place for new volunteers to start.
Have the following information ready when you call to recruit crew members:
- Dress rehearsal dates
- Date of the Thursday Preview performance (ALL backstage crew required to attend on this night)
- Performance dates
- Crew Watch Night date
- Photo Call date— the date when crew photos are taken for the playbill
- Dress Parade (optional for crew to attend, but really helpful)
Ask your recruits to give you the following information:
- Rehearsal dates where they have conflicts (absolute minimum number of rehearsals they should attend- 2, more is better)
- Performance dates where they have conflicts (The more dates crew members are willing to work, the better. You are MUCH better off with a small crew that is well-trained, rather than many people who may only come a couple of nights.)
- All contact numbers, e-mail addresses where they can be reached
- Are they a new volunteer/experience level
Once you have called all of your crew and have dates they can work, it is time for you to build your schedule.
It is your job as the Dresser Crew Chief to schedule your crew for the dress rehearsals and the performances (don’t forget holdovers) of the show. Sometimes the dresser crew chief does not schedule himself or herself, but rather serves as the fill-in in case of emergency. Every crew member must work at least 2 of the dress rehearsals. Crew members should be scheduled based on their wishes and personal schedule, but you need to remember that the show is most important. In a perfect world, crew members should work at least one third of the performances. Over-scheduling your crew though can lead to unhappy crew and will eventually burn them out faster. Under-scheduling or having too many crew members leads to inconsistent performances and people feel like they aren’t needed. Make sure that you call everyone early enough to be able to have a full crew.
Once you have come up with a schedule, send it out to your crew for approval. Make sure you hear back from everyone that it is okay and no adjustments need to be made. When you have the final schedule, give a copy to the Stage Manager and post another copy on the bulletin board outside of the Costume Shop. The calendar should also include all of the contact info. for you and your crew members. Contact info. is very important in case someone does not show up or is late. (This happens way more than you think!)
Important Dates and Stuff
Crew Photo Call
Photo call is when group photos are taken of cast and crew for the program. It is usually held about two weeks before opening night for about an hour. Encourage all of your crew to come and participate.
Crew Watch Night
This run through is just another rehearsal, except that all of the crews are invited to come and watch the performance. It is usually held on the Thursday before Tech Saturday. It allows crews who will not be in a position to see the production from the house vantage to see it and to see how their crew fits into the “grand scheme of things”. Your crew members should be strongly encouraged to attend this.
This is a time for the actors to get into their costumes and parade in front of the Director and Costume Designer so that they can see what everyone will look like. It is usually held on the Friday night before Tech Saturday. As the crew chief, you should definitely be there! If you have not been working in the Costume Shop helping construct the costumes (and it’s okay if you haven’t, it’s not a requirement), this might be the first time you are seeing what the costumes are and who wears what. This night is also an excellent time to start to see what costume pieces actors may struggle with and where dresser help will be needed. On some shows, the Costume Designer may provide you with a list of what everyone is wearing so you can follow along. (If you don’t get this list, do ask for one prior to the first Sunday dress rehearsal- you will need it!) Crew are not required to come to this but it is very educational so you may wish to at least give them a head’s up.
Regardless of whether or not you attend Dress Parade, do schedule a time with the Costume Designer so they can show you each costume. Do this the week prior to Tech. This is a time for you to ask questions and the Designer will give you tips on anything that might cause difficulties.
You will be asked to supply the Stage Manager with a complete listing of your crew for the program. This listing is usually due three weeks before opening night. It is most important that you include everyone who has worked on your crew and you have everyone’s name spelled correctly. The program listing is used at the end of the season to determine who is recognized at the Annual Meeting. You don’t want to be the reason someone’s name was omitted from recognition.
Tech Saturday is the first official technical rehearsal. Actors are not in costume during this rehearsal so no dressers need to be there. You also do not have to be there on that day. However, the Costume Shop can probably use the help if you are able. You could also use time on this day to go ahead and setup any backstage quick-change areas. (morning or “dry tech” time is best for this) This is a l-o-o-ong day for everyone, therefore, we end the day with Tech Dinner. Tech Dinner is a potluck dinner supplied by the cast to welcome the crew. Your crew is invited to this meal. Occasionally the cast is small and Crew Chiefs need to help out with the potluck food. You would be asked in advance by the Assistant to the Director to supply food if it is needed.
This is everyone’s responsibility. Please encourage your entire crew to be there. The first responsibility that the dresser crew has at strike is to clean up their area and bring everything downstairs. The Costume Designer will have a strike checklist.
- Accessories are placed on one of the tables in the Costume Shop.
- Name tags are removed from all costume pieces.
- There is usually a rolling rack designated for dry cleaning.
- Shoes are sprayed with Lysol, then bundled together w/ rubber bands.
- Actors are responsible for cleaning their dressing rooms, but it is helpful to go check behind them.
- There are always loads of laundry to sort and start.
Strike usually lasts about two hours. There is a strike dinner afterwards that is a final celebration of the show.
Preparing for the show
Dresser Crew Running Notes
You should prepare a checklist for your dressers so they know what to do each night. The Costume Designer should be able to provide a checklist or some kind of notes for you to use as a starting point. Your Crew Running Notes should include a complete, detailed listing of every costume piece and who wears what and when and all costume changes. How you organize this info. will depend on the show. For example, if it is a musical, you might use different musical numbers to organize the changes.
Since the dressers do not get cued like other crew members, we rely on our ability to follow the show and know when a change is coming up. It is helpful then to include in your notes a key line or some sound cue that happens close to a costume change that can serve as a warning for the crew to be ready. Also helpful- if you can look at a script and determine how many pages there are between each change. (e.g. If 2 costume changes occur on the same page, assume they will need to be quick and the crew should be at the ready. If you have 20 pages between changes, you know you can relax.)
It is helpful in your notes to provide a cast list so your dressers know both the character names and the names of the actor playing each role.
Your checklist should also include a list of any tasks crew should complete prior to curtain time (e.g. ironing, assist actors if they need help with complicated wigs or costumes pre-show) and post-performance. Actors are responsible for bringing upstairs to the quick-change areas any costume pieces they need. However, it is the crew’s duty to check behind them. Ditto for returning costumes after the show.
Quick changes are costume changes that happen just off-stage during a performance when an actor does not have time to go back downstairs to their dressing rooms. The Technical Director will be the best person to ask where you can set-up your quick change area(s) so you aren’t in the way. On some shows, you may need more than one area. Quick changes make up most of the dresser duties during performances.
Here is what you need for the Quick Change area:
- Old bath mats/bed covers (to put on floor so dropped costumes don’t touch dirty floor)
- Rolling costume racks
- Extra hangers of various types (you will need them!)
- Hanging name tags to separate actor’s costumes on the quick change rack (you will make these- plastic hanging tags, tape and markers are in Costume Shop)
- Laundry baskets (for catching/carrying shoes, and other costume items, etc.)
- Fans (if it’s really hot)
- Full-length mirrors
- Table mirror (handy for wigs and hats)
- Small bookcase (handy for show w/ lots of wigs and hats)
- Wig brush, bobby pins and safety pins
- Shoe horns
- Blue lights/running lights (clip lamps w/ blue bulbs so audience can’t see light- will provide you with just barely enough light to see- get these from the Technical Director)
- Flashlights (Costume Shop has a few, encourage your crew to bring their own if they have them)
- Black aprons for dressers to wear- be sure you have some safety pins, bobby pins, etc. on hand for emergencies
- Chairs for actors to sit in if needed during change
If you have the option, try to make the quick change area in a location where the actors are not on display when changing. This is not always possible and experienced actors know that changing clothes in front of others comes with the job. But you should make an effort to make the space as private as possible.
During the show/rehearsals
Fire Drill Procedures
Sometime during dress rehearsals, you should go over with your crew the procedure to follow in case of fire drill (or the real thing). When a fire drill is called, all crew members are to immediately leave the building from the nearest exit and assemble in the back parking lot/Rose Garden for Main Stage productions and in front of the building for Gaddy-Goodwin? productions. Please do a check once you’re outside to make sure everyone in your group is now outside of the building. Nobody should re-enter the building until the all-clear is given by the Stage Manager or designated staff member.
Dressing Quick Change Tips and Tricks
Dressers are often called upon to assist with costume changes that must happen lightning fast (and in silence and semi-darkness). The everyday actions we take for granted in getting dressed all of the sudden can become incredibly difficult in the frenzy of backstage. There are lots of tips and tricks you will pick up as you go along to make things easier. Here are just a few:
- Be consistent- Work with your actors and dressers to find the best tactics during the changes. Then try to be consistent in your methods. This is important with the fast changes. It is generally better for you to decide how the change will occur. It seems to muddy the waters when you ask the actor how they want to do things. This is not to say you shouldn’t try to accommodate their wishes, but just that they are usually distracted by lots of other things.
- Jackets- Remove from hanger and place on back of chair- Makes it easier to help put on if actor is using the chair to sit while putting on other costume pieces such as shoes. When they stand up, you can have their jacket ready. Can also do a button-up shirt the same way.
- Coats- When helping put on a coat, hold it out in front of you with one hand on each shoulder of the garment. Then start to gather up the fabric of each sleeve. Basically, you are shortening the sleeves so there’s less work getting actor’s arms in. Also, when you are standing behind them and their arms are flailing, trying to find the armholes- if you have one hand at each arm hole, when the actor feels your hand, they will know there are in the right place. Also, if you move the sleeve towards their hand, it’s easier that way.
- Shoes- Make sure shoes have elastic laces whenever possible. Talk with actors ahead of time. Are their shoes way-tight or are they loose enough to just slip on and off without being untied? Shoehorns are your friend.
- Buttoned shirts- General rule of thumb- NEVER unbutton (or untie) anything that you don’t have to. This saves time. Experiment and find out how many buttons the actor really needs to have undone in order to get into a costume.
- Pants and skirts- Can be “puddled” on floor to make change quicker. For pants, just neatly gather up the legs and then lay pants on floor. Open up the leg holes as wide as possible, undo fly and belt. Basically, you want to make it so the actor can walk up, undress and just step into the leg holes and pull up the pants. Skirts are done in a similar way.
- Skirts are sometimes placed with shoes inside so actor can just step into both at the same time. This works best with large or hooped skirts.
Small items such as scarves or socks- throw over your shoulder so they are right there when an actor needs them. Ditto- you might park an actor’s hat on your own head to save a little time.
- Jewelry- Lay these out on a table to make then handy. Clasps should already be UNDONE.
- Ties- Loosen, but don’t completely untie ties (Although some men are very quick at tying ties and they may prefer to do it themselves each night so ask.)
- When removing clothes during a quick change- just toss everything into a laundry basket. Don’t waste time hanging anything up. You can do that once the change is over.
- When you have extremely fast changes, you may even have a team of dressers (2 is really the most you can do without creating chaos) who help the actor dress in tandem.
- Visually check the actor before they enter. ZIPPERS ZIPPED? Buttons buttoned? Collars straightened? Everything tucked in? Hair and make-up unmussed? The actors are relying on the DRESSERS to make sure they are presentable when they re-enter. Always do a final check, the actors will be distracted and this is your job.
- It is more important to the actors that they make their entrances on time than to have all their costume pieces. It is much more stressful for them to make an entrance late than to be missing some random part of their costume. Your job is to get them properly changed and as quickly as you can. However, if going onstage without some small accessory or something means they are on time, then that is more important. Just strategize/practice to find a way to make the change happen more quickly next time. If this is during dress rehearsals, do not get too stressed if some things aren’t working or if the Director/Costume Designer decides to cut something. Part of dress rehearsals is the chance to finally see ALL of the elements of the show come together. It is expected that some of the ideas will turn out to not work too well in practice. It is not a failure on your part or the crew’s if something gets cut. Just do your best, and know that everything will eventually work out. Prepare your crew for this too (esp. newbies) so they don’t freak if some things change from night to night during tech.
- DON’T PANIC. This can be very hard to do when the adrenaline is flowing, but dressers should always exude an air of calm. Actors will pick up on whatever you are feeling. It would be preferable for them to go out onstage with their costume on backwards as long as you are calm and you keep them calm. If things are frantic backstage, you can read it in the actor’s face the second they come back onstage.
- Work to make sure the actors feel cared for and supported. The dressers are the backstage crew members who work most closely with the actors. They join the production during the last few days before the show opens and actors may be feeling especially nervous or vulnerable during this time. Add in the fact that they are having to undress in front of people they may have just met, it can be nerve-wracking. The most important thing you can do is introduce yourself and your dressers to each of the actors. (“Hello, I’m Mary and I’m your dresser. I will be ripping off your costume tonight.” :)When an actor knows they can walk off-stage and crew members are standing there with whatever they need, ready to help them, that is a good thing.
- Make sure your crew members know how important they are to the production too. And of course, be sure to thank them.
The Costume Designer will post a sheet on the bulletin board for actors to list any problems/repairs for their costumes. The Costume Designer will handle these problems the next time they are in the Shop. However, if the fix is something really simple that you can do (e.g. sew a button back on), you can fix it yourself if you wish.