Costume Drama: Mastering the Game of Quick Change


With weeks of dance rehearsals to focus on, it can be easy to overlook costume changes, until you miss an entrance due to a struggle for a quick change. On Broadway, a TV show, or a concert tour, there’s a team of people to help make quick changes manageable, from costume designers who design time-saving clothes to dressers behind the scenes who can help. putting them in and taking them out. Small shows and indie productions probably don’t have a large costume team, so we asked the pros for advice on how anyone can deal with rapid changes.

THE EXPERTS : Daniela Gschwendtner and Steven Lee, costume designers for “Dancing with the Stars”

THE DESIGN PROCESS: Gschwendtner and Lee designed the professional and celebrity looks for the “Dancing with the Stars” show and tour for 15 years, resulting in countless rapid changes. With dozens of themed looks to create each week, the design process can get tricky. “Also, we’re not told who’s doing the quick changes right away because they’re still working on show order,” says Lee, who designs the men’s looks.

Pro Daniella Karagach and her famous partner Iman Shumpert, who won the 30th season of “Dancing with the Stars”. Photo by ABC/Christopher Willard, courtesy ABC.

To make everything as easy to change as possible, they try to avoid multi-piece suits, buttons and zippers. “Girls probably have it a little easier,” says Gschwendtner, who designs the women’s costumes. “I try to connect everything as one unit that you can put on, hook up and go.” While a one-piece is nearly impossible for men, Lee still has his tricks. “If there are buttons on the shirt, I can convert them to Velcro, or sometimes I attach a shirt to a jacket to make it a single unit,” he says. “If there’s a change of socks and shoes, I’ll ask him to layer the socks so he can just take the first pair off.”

“Changes for TV normally happen during a commercial break, and they’re quick, but not like on tour,” says Gschwendtner. For the tour, where a two-hour show can result in 40 to 50 dances with different costumes, it’s all about coordinating as a team. During fittings, Lee makes sure dancers are completely comfortable with the mechanics of 20-second dress changes. “I’m done once the design is done, but the dancers have to live with it for months.” But no matter how much foresight goes into a design, “Sometimes someone doesn’t make a quick change on tour, and they come in a little later than they should,” says Gschwendtner. “It doesn’t spoil the show, and it’s more important that everyone is safe.”

THE EXPERT: Madeleine DeGracia, wardrobe manager at Pacific Northwest Ballet

THE PREPARATION : Before the PNB costume shop made the clothes for classics like Swan Lake and more recent works such as those by Crystal Pite track point, you’ll find DeGracia and her small, year-round team creating detailed spreadsheets of every rapid change. “You need detailed inventory lists that tell you everything from dress to underwear,” DeGracia says of knowing what each change entails. “Usually we only have one rehearsal to practice these quick changes, and then it’s opening night. I have to document everything completely down to the order they’re going to take things out and what order they’re going to put them in, so the dressers can be ready to go. At the top of DeGracia’s list of priorities is the provision of private backstage spaces for dancers to change into, which are constructed by PNB’s carpentry department. “Sometimes you have a quick change that’s so fast you can’t get to a pit. In this case, I tell the crew: “You must evacuate this area at this time”, she says. “We try to make the dancer feel as safe as possible.”

THE EXPERT: Kylie James, dancer from Katy Perry’s Las Vegas residency show, TO PLAY

Kylie James in one of her costumes for Katy Perry’s ‘PLAY’. Courtesy of James.

QUICK CHANGES: Growing up in the competitive world, Kylie James has seen her fair share of rapid changes. But nothing quite prepared the Juilliard 2019 graduate for the breakneck pace — and complicated costumes — of TO PLAY. “The first set of costumes was definitely a shocker,” says James, who went through eight changes over the course of the five-act show. “We dress in a quick-change booth, and the dressers took notes on how we each like our costumes put together,” she says. “In our change from Act 4 to Act 5, I have to run to the other side of the stage, so I have my skirt placed in a donut shape that I can pull over my head and slide right into it.”

As the dancers have a break during Perry’s acoustic set, other changes are a frantic rush, so the dancers of TO PLAY having two main chests of drawers in each cabin, plus additional chests of drawers waiting outside. “In Act 1, we go from an orange soldier costume with our hair and faces covered to a piece that covers our hair,” James says of his Act 2 bath doll costume. This change is the trickiest, as our bras need to be hung, the little yellow underwear we have needs to be hung, and we need to put on blue shoes before going to our prop table for our gloves, floats, sunglasses and swimwear – bubble hats Dancers have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to make the change and be placed inside a prop and ready to go when the curtain goes up. Dancers wrap their hair with a wig before each performance, so their headpieces are aligned and eliminate the need to pin and undo headpieces. “All of our headwear is hook and eye or button closed,” says James. “It makes things much easier and safer.”

Top 5 tips from the pros

AVOID ZIPPERS: Although dancers don’t mind (and might even prefer) an easy-to-pull zipper, “Dancing with the Stars” costume designer Daniela Gschwendtner eschews them. “Zippers break or if they’re not fully closed, they’re a problem,” she says. “A strap and hooks are best because if one hook doesn’t catch, another will and the costume will stay put.”

PREPARE YOUR QUICK-CHAGE SPACE: It is crucial that dancers know where they are changing and what their costume should look like before going back on stage. Madeleine DeGracia, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s wardrobe manager, works with the props department to set up quick-change booths, but she notes that even hanging a thick sheet over a clothes rack can still provide a lot of privacy. . She gives each dresser detailed instructions and a photo of each costume, then asks the dancers and dressers to figure out a changing routine that works for them.

Have an emergency repair kit handy: “The amount the dancers really push the garment is insane, and the garment just has to take it, as opposed to a baseball uniform where everything is stretchy and there’s padding,” says DeGracia, who notes that part of his job is to be prepared for repairs. “I’m decked out in emergency gear – I have scissors around my neck and a needle on my jumper,” she says, adding that she avoids safety pins, which can easily come undone and cause injuries. wounds. For backstage lighting, DeGracia recommends hands-free flashlights. “We use this wonderful product that looks like a necklace; It’s a flexible U-shaped wire, and each end has a small LED on it.

IT IS PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: “It took us several rehearsals to get everything timed accordingly and to find the best plan of attack to get into the costumes so that it really became its own choreography,” says dancer Kylie James of preparing the complicated costume changes in Katy Perry’s TO PLAY. Additional repetitions can be essential for more complex designs, such as the extravagantly feathered headdress James wears in Act 5. “They’re beautiful, but they’re also massive and very heavy,” James explains. “We had to have a rehearsal period just to get used to moving in them, walking in them and adjusting our choreography,” she says of the other props, which are attached using backpack-style straps. . “We’re going up, like, a thousand steps, which makes it a lot harder.”

COLLABORATE AND COMMUNICATE: As they prepare for the “DWTS” tour, Gschwendtner and co-costumer Steven Lee work closely not only with dancers and dressers, but also with choreographers and producers. “During tech, we could say, ‘We can put video content here or have a slower output for the previous dance to give them an extra 30 seconds,'” Lee explains. During performances, clear communication between dancers and dressers is essential. “The best fast changers calmly talk to the dancer about it,” DeGracia says. “The performer already has so much in their head, thinking about movement and emotions, that the dresser can really help. We’re with the most vulnerable dancers and we’re really building this solid trust with each other. others to do the work,” she adds. “We couldn’t have a show without our dressers,” confirms James. “They are literally our saviors.”Marissa DeSantis is a frequent contributor to dance review


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