The Employee You Should Hire: Theatre Artist

I can still distinctly recall the neatly organized office with beige walls and mahogany furniture as I looked around, getting a feel for this office while a woman with glasses and short blond hair studied my resume on her desk. She was quiet, but fast as she looked up periodically asking me questions. “Why is she responding so quickly? Does she think I’m strong material for employment?” I wondered as I waited at the temp agency. Putting the resume down, she smiled at me, “Why are you in Denver? Don’t you think you should move to L.A. or New York? Don’t you think you should be working for Broadway?” “Well, actually YOU think I should be in L.A. or New York,” I thought as I wondered what the hell I was going to do approaching another month of no or scarce employment with a one-year lease to pay. “You type 70 words per minute? You did excellent on your computer tests. How did you know about computers from theatre?” she asked. Back then, I didn’t have a quick answer for her as I struggled to explain. Didn’t she know that everyone has computer training and understands how to use all kinds of programs no matter their area of expertise? Rather than tell her she was wrong and that I had useful skills, I stared at my resume dotted with temporary work and no longevity on it, since my work in theatre failed to provide me with such long-term work. Many employers turned me away, thinking I had started and then quit jobs after a couple of months because of an inability to commit. Struggling to explain and translate skills attained from theatre to other fields or to those in other departments of a theatre company can seem incredibly difficult, nearly impossible, unless they’ve professionally experience these roles themselves. Describing my work as a Dresser to family usually warrants the response, “You help actors get dressed? Your job is SOOOOOOO easy.” Rather than try to re-tell my experiences, I think it is possible to translate the skills of theatre artists so that people (including the artists themselves) will see how valuable the work of technicians and performers actually is. Don’t believe me? Read below to see how I’ve translated some of our unique job descriptions with actual, “real world” everyday work:

PASSPORT COUTURE

Anywhere, USA

Website: http://www.passportcouture.com

SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS

Real World Job candidate with 10+ years’ experience in professional and educational theatre seeking to transfer well-developed organizational, communication, and problem-solving skills to a Real World Industry or Field. Enthusiastically willing to learn new computer programs, organizational methods, and any attend any necessary conferences or workshops to attain more knowledge and skills for this field.

Backstage Dressing Lists (L)

Dressing lists of costume pieces for each actor and character in the “Legend of Georgia McBride” (2014) at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company.

Ability to efficiently problem-solve and respond quickly to challenges:

  • Skilled at managing and arranging solutions in the fast-paced and at times unpredictable backstage environment of professional theatre productions.
  •  Translation: When a petticoat zipper gets caught on an actress’camisole during a quick change of less than one minute, like it did during a production of “Dracula,” the other dresser and I had to improvise. This required the other dresser to scramble and put on other pieces as I pulled down the zipper as far as I could until I realized I needed to cut the camisole out of the zipper. This not only involves the actress figuring out how she might have to improvise a late entrance, but requires our determination to remain calm as technicians. Throwing off an actress’ concentration from her performance is the last thing we want as technicians.Finding ways to use materials beyond their intended use and constantly trying new methods until we solve the problem is our job to create the “theatre magic.” We strive to create the productions without the appearance of effort and when it seems like everything may fall apart, we band together to make the seemingly “impossible” happen. During a performance of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge was losing his voice and left the show during intermission. While the first act of the show was going on, supervisors and the stage management team quickly discussed what needed to happen to prepare the costumes and props for Scrooge’s understudy as well as the costume changes and characters for the understudy’s understudy. 10 understudies (7 actors and 3 stage management team members who took on tasks like pushing out the Pie Cart during the top of Act 2) went on, requiring everyone in the cast and crew to remain focused and supportive of one another. No matter how many understudies go on, tracks and procedures we carry out each show must be rearranged and managed to make it appear as though this is how the show was supposed to be all along.
Dressing Charts (L)

Dressing charts I used created by the Stage Management team and Wardrobe Supervisor for “A Christmas Carol” (2014) and “Appoggiatura” (2014) at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company.

Relied on by supervisors and colleagues for refined systems of organization:

  • Recognized for efficient procedures and effective decision-making during live theatre productions with detailed paperwork, labeling systems, and safety precautions.
  •  Translation: Although it is commonly assumed that the Director calls the show from backstage, letting the sound and lighting technicians andstagehands know cues for changes, it is actually the Stage Manager who makes these calls and keeps track of all the information from the blocking (or movement onstage), script notes, and cues in their paperwork. This person determines what needs to happen in emergencies and similar situations as well as communicate the schedule and what will take place during rehearsals.It’s not only the Stage Manager who must be organized. It is the technicians who must think ahead to determine what actors may need backstage (water bottles, medicine, towels, etc.) as well as being aware of safety precautions to inform actors. Everything is carefully labeled, from pegs to hang costumes on to props tables that are taped out and labeled with a place for everything used so actors know where to find their unactivated cellphone to pull out of their back pocket or coral purse for a fifties housewife. The goal is to think ahead so that everyone can focus on their job to make the production the best it can be.

 Articulate and effective communicator:

  • Comfortable discussing methods and techniques with supervisors and colleagues to create and maintain a quality theatrical production both onstage and backstage.
  •  Translation: The founders of the United States would agree that in order to form a more perfect union, everyone must collaborate and communicate what they are thinking (mind-reading isn’t in the job description). Shops for costumes, hair and make-up, props, scenery, and lighting all need to communicate with the stage management team, stagehands, electricians, hair and make-up assistants, and dressers to determine the best construction methods to produce the overall look the design teams desire and ensure that pieces are made with onstage movement and timing for backstage changes. In my area of costuming, Drapers and Tailors must take several elements into consideration, including: the style and time period the Costume Designer wants, how the actor will feel and move in the costume, and how to construct a costume for possible quick changes backstage. For “The Legend of Georgia McBride” costumes were rigged with specific separating zippers so that the zipper heads could be removed once zipped up. From here, the zippers could be pulled apart instead of having to completely unzip, to help speed up the actor’s change out of the costume. Constant communication between those running the production backstage and those creating the scenery, costumes, and props is necessary for a strong production offstage and during the show.
Pegs Backstage 4 (L)

Peg labeling backstage to indicated which pieces are placed at this particular spot for “The Legend of Georgia McBride” (2014) at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company.

Collaborative team player:

  • At ease navigating complex and over-lapping tasks inherent when preparing and producing professional theatre by collaborating with colleagues from different departments within the company.
  •  Translation: Working in theatre, you don’t always collaborate with just your specific department. During my recent work with “Appoggiatura,” an actress needed holders to keep her water bottle, make-up, sunglasses, and other items separate from one another in her purse. My co-worker found foam and rolled and taped them to create padded tubes to store the items in her purse. From here the props department took the padded items and covered them with lining similar to the purse. The costume shop isn’t the only department that sews, since I’ve helped stagehands with a sewing machine to repair mic packs or sew black fabric for curtains or drops. A specific memory of collaboration was during a production of “Shadowlands” where the stage management team, a stagehand, and I assisted an actor with exits and entrances to avoid confusion in a dark, arena style backstage setting. The more we support one another and look out for one another, technicians and performers, the better the experience will be onstage and offstage.

Versed in a Variety of Computer Programs and Technical Expertise:

  • [Fill in the blank]
  •  Translation: Depending on which Technical Department a technician has worked in they may have experience with Automation, an automated computerized system that moves scenery onstage to change the setting, or lighting programs if they’re an electrician and run a lighting board. Even those in the costume department use computer programs like Excel to create charts combining individual dressing assignments to see where an individual dresser is at any given time during the show. This is helpful to determine when costumes are worn and where they need to be tracked to for another change, if necessary. I always prefer to create my running order, or list of changes and costume tracking I perform, on squares I’ve created in Microsoft Word to fit and be mounted on 3” x 5” cards. As I’ve been learning about the Adobe Creative Cloud programs, I found my creative problem-solving skills from theatre to come in handy as I used tools in the programs various ways to create what I wanted. That’s the thing about theatre, if we can figure out how to arrange clothes and the steps to take to make a costume change in under one minute happen, we can figure out a computer program. Take a look at the projects from my Adobe InDesign class to see what I mean:

Adobe Projects (L)

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

Work over the past ten years as an intern and professional employee for theatres in Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado, and London, England as a stitcher, dresser, and assistant to designer.

EDUCATION
Important to have education and training, but it doesn’t guarantee employment.

ADDITIONAL TRAINING

  • [Another Fill in the Blank]
  • Translation: Numerous trainings from conference such as United States Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT) provides workshops and the latest products to help train theatre professionals. Although I have not participated in these conferences, technicians may have training in programs that should not be overlooked by employers and upper management. This kind of work takes dedication and training beyond that of work required of individual shows.Beyond technical training, I find I’m learning procedures from performers and other artists all the time. During “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” for instance, some of the costume changes required another dresser and I to perform some changes onstage. During one of the onstage changes, an actor accidentally elbowed me on the side of my head. Rather than react and detract the audience from the story between the actors, I thought of how actors have to remain focused and keep going, even if something goes wrong or another actor forgets their lines. It’s a great reminder to me as a technician the scrutiny and the nervousness actors face out onstage as they remember their lines, blocking, and emotions as they tell their character’s story.

Although I am sure there is more you could add to this list, I hope it’s clearer to those not in this profession that there is value to someone who has training and work experience in theatre. Our skills are not always a literal translation, but theatre artists can do more than most assume (and that “most” sometimes includes the artists themselves sometimes, unfortunately).   The skills of a technician or performer can translate to organization, communication, and collaboration—all skills employers look for in an employee. It takes more than a village to make a theatre production happen, it sometimes takes a metropolis. Just ask Stephen Colbert if you need more clarification:

What other strong skills do you think Theatre Artists have that are beneficial to employers?


2 Comments

  1. Madame Ostrich

    Your story reminds me so much of going on a job hunt with an English major and a concentration in modern poetry. I now work in digital acquisition– people are always surprised. The thing is, working in a creative and high stress field teaches you a lot about solving problems in ways that a business degree can’t. You have to continuously think outside of the box!

    Great post!

    XxMO
    madame-ostrich.com

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Thank you! I agree that working in a creative field teaches you to think on your feet constantly. I used to struggle with my degree and career in theatre, but now I know I have valuable skills beyond sewing costumes and dressing actors. I noticed you share info on careers in the the fashion industry (photography, stylist, etc.) and I love reading those posts and learning more about other fields. There’s always more to it than you think!

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

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