Behind the curtains, some actors can act pretty arrogant
by JANET GILMORE
“Iron this shirt?” said an actor. His intonation was perfectly pitched between a request and a command. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he said, “You’re NOT going to scorch it; are you?”
I’m not sure when the Italian word “diva,” which means “goddess,” changed to mean “a distinguished female singer” and then “a pain in the neck from any walk of life.” My experience at Stagecrafters Theater in Chestnut Hill is that almost every show has a diva — or a “divo.”
Diva-dom doesn’t really correlate with stardom or talent. Sometimes actors with very minor roles can take up inordinate amounts of the costumers’ time.
The next time you attend a performance at Stagecrafters and marvel at the beauty and smoothness of the show, send a thought or two to the “little hands” backstage who are tearing their hair out trying to keep the actors calm and happy so they can be at their best on-stage. It takes months of work and planning, and it’s never as easy as it seems from the audience.
The drama starts well before curtain time. After weeks of insisting he didn’t need any help with costume changes, the above-mentioned actor added, “And isn’t anyone going to help me on with my slippers?” Yes, yes, yes, Cinderella, someone will.
Once he was on-stage, I sat on the dressing room steps with my Coco, my co-costumer and co-co-enabler:
“Did he grunt something in the language of his home planet that means ‘Thank you’?”
“He did sort of nod.”
“Do you think that means ‘Thank you?’”
“Well, it was a gracious nod.”
“Really gracious, or sort of gracious?”
“More sort of gracious-like. Not really gracious, but better than nothing. A little better.”
Doesn’t this dude realize that we’re costumers? We can make him look fat or hang a “Kick Me” sign on the back of his shirt (or pants) or put itching powder in his costume just before he goes on-stage. We may seem like sweet malice-free women of a certain age, but we’re not. Malice-free, that is. Back-stage is a hotbed of sabotage.
The actresses — ah, the actresses! They work so hard and care so much about how they look on-stage. They don’t realize that if they give costumers a hard time, we give ‘em little nicknames.
One I’ll call Ms. Perfect Princess (not her real name) was overheard to say, “Oh, I would love to give blood, but I can’t; I don’t weigh enough.”
OK, costumers were on guard, sensing trouble. We didn’t have to wait long.
Ms. P.P. had a small part, but we costumers do our best for every actor. We brought Ms. P.P. several blouses to try on. She went through them quickly and said, “Oh, no, honey; I wear a size zero. These will be much too big!”
“Could you try them on anyway?”
“Not unless they’re a size zero.”
Costumers exchanged glances. Evil glances.
“I’m sure they’ll be enormous. Just look at how tiny you are! Maybe you could try everything on and let me know what fits. I’ll be back.”
I went away to cut size labels out of blouses, or cross out the real size and write a “0” in its place.
And to ask the props people where they keep the itching powder.
One of our actors had an up-coming role in a show for another theater. The theater asked us (Stagecrafters) to take his measurements and write them on a form because, probably due to the economy, they don’t own a tape measure.
Measuring an actor for another theater is like helping your girl/boyfriend get ready for a date with someone else.
We took the usual measurements, but the form called for calf and thigh measurement. THIGH measurement? We’ve become adept at in-seam measuring, but have never been asked to take a thigh measurement. And the actor was young and cute.
“Goodness, gracious,” said Coco, “thigh measurements! I feel, well, fiddle-dee-dee, is it hot in here?”
“I believe it is,” I said. I measured.
“Thigh, 23 inches. Just write down 23 inches.” I said to Coco, who wrote.
“So, big boy, what do you do during the day?” I asked the actor. He laughed and noticed, maybe for the first time that older people are living creatures just like him, and can be funny.
We were still jumping up and down in the dressing room, yelling, “Thighs! Thighs! We finally got to do thighs!” and cackling like the witches in “Macbeth” when the actor left.
“Wait a minute!” we yelled to him down the hallway. “We forgot to measure the other thigh! Come back!” But he was on his quick way downstairs to the green room. On his way, he crossed paths with the stage manager who was rushing upstairs to see who was making so much noise in the dressing room. We cackled at him, and he went away mumbling, “Try to keep the noise down; OK?” Poor stage manager. His job is like wrangling quicksilver. He sighs a lot.
I looked at Coco. She looked at me. We laughed.
“You know, I only do this because I love it,” I said.
“That’s the only reason any of us do it,” she replied. She’s a wise woman.
(These vignettes are composites of actors from various shows. By the way, it’s a superstition in the theater that it is bad luck to mention the name of “Macbeth” out loud in a theater, but I said it, so to speak, in this article. I wonder if it’s bad luck to mention “Macbeth” in a local newspaper.)