What an Actor Discovered Working Behind the Curtain
Photo of ‘Picnic’ cast and crew by Matthew Wright, Fig Tree Photography
I consider theatre to be my home. The universe of theatre has always been a place where I felt like I could truly be myself. Despite loving all aspects of theatre, acting is the one I’ve identified with the most. I never gave any other part of theatre the chance to bring me joy the same way acting does. While I naturally revel in acting, this semester, I had the opportunity to take a Costumes Practicum course that allowed me to explore a completely new aspect of theatre: costume crew.
I’ll admit it – at first, I was terrified. I always appreciated the costume crew and had an interest in sewing, but it was all new to me. And the idea of hiding backstage when I could be shining onstage was a concept that I thoroughly disliked. For the past few years, I dabbled with house management and working in the box office, but even then I was still the face of the theatre. I was seen, I interacted with patrons, I wasn’t tucked away in a corner. Though my Picnic costumes foray began on skeptical footing, I left the experience absolutely floored by what I had learned. Working backstage isn’t about hiding yourself; it’s about helping and supporting others. And honestly, it’s pretty rewarding.
My friend Cherokee and I were responsible for dressing actors, preparing costumes before the performances, repairing last-minute damages, and making sure the actors properly handled their costumes. We participated in four tech-week rehearsals, which are the rehearsals directly before the performance, when the pieces of light, sound, and costumes finally come together. Without hesitation, tech week flew by and we were left with our first set of five performances. Surprisingly, what seemed like an unending deluge of information to remember quickly became simple and nearly second nature to me. I was no longer scrambling to check the list of who wore what before each show or standing in the wings anticipating cues that wouldn’t come for another 30 minutes. Though I wasn’t acting, I became familiar with the script and cast in a whole new way. This task that I spent all semester dreading was actually really awesome.
Being a transfer student, I am constantly missing my amazing theatre department from my old college. We had cooky traditions, like the cast member in the most shows running around before the show wearing the “Gypsy Robe,” and at the end of the year, we’d have an award ceremony, The Nary’s, to celebrate our productions throughout the year. My first production at Arcadia was the show Speech and Debate. I worked house management. Due to the nature of the position, I did not have as many opportunities to interact with the cast and crew. I remember watching the cast and crew dance on stage, singing this weird song, “Bugaloo,” as they warmed, and I couldn’t help but feel lost. It was as if I was on another planet looking in, not a part of the group. Being in the crew of Picnic changed that for me. Soon, I was dancing on stage to the ridiculous “Bugaloo” and doing our own crazy warm-ups.
After four tech rehearsals (each averaging about six hours) and two weekends of 10 performances, I was exhausted. That being said, I would never change this experience for the world. Despite sewing aprons, buttons, tears in skirts, steaming hats, ironing ties, spraying down garments, and overall being prepared for the absolute worst situations, I had a blast. Working in a new angle made me realize being backstage isn’t a punishment. It’s a different sort of special perspective that I had been ignorant of in so many ways. As I pursue acting in the future, I will continue to be open to new opportunities that come my way. Whether it’s stage crew, costumes, prop, or even sound and lighting, count me in.