Being thrown into the job of costume director at the last minute is not exactly as easy as putting on your pants. (Photo by Hugh Gilmore)

Being thrown into the job of costume director at the last minute is not exactly as easy as putting on your pants. (Photo by Hugh Gilmore)

by Janet Gilmore

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness dumped on their heads and don’t like it.” — Shakespeare (paraphrased)

Five minutes or less after I walked in to the first costume meeting for “The Late Christopher Bean” by Sidney Howard, the new play running at Stagecrafters Theater, 8130 Germantown Ave., Feb. 5-21, Jen Allegra, the costume director, told me, “There’s been some drama.”

“Already?” I asked. I knew that by drama, she meant backstage shenanigans, not the script.

When Jen, costumer and sometime actress at Stagecrafters, had told me before the season opened that she will NOT be acting in a play this year because it’s her son’s last year of high school and she wants to spend time with him, I KNEW something weird was going to happen.

Here’s a backstage item for you: the actor you see on-stage in a role may not be the actor who was originally chosen for that role. He may be the second or even third actor in the role because the first guy quit three weeks before opening night. Sometimes they quit because they got a better offer in another play or a MOVIE, or they may send you a letter from JAIL, saying they are unable to perform, or they may simply not answer their phone/emails/texts, and you will never know what happened. They’re just GONE.

So when Jen told me that both an actor AND an actress had quit “The Late Christopher Bean” a week ago, was I surprised to learn that Jen had auditioned and gotten a part? No. She’s a superb actress.

I was very surprised to learn, though, that I was the new costume director for the show! HUH?!

I have been at Stagecrafters for eight years and NEVER NEVER wanted to be costume director. Happy to help, yes, but I never want to be in charge of anything, EVER.

But there I was, leading the costume parade.

I did the mature thing; I bought a bunch of Powerball tickets, figuring that if I won, I’d simply leave the country.

But I lost.

The first day at my new assignment was spent dithering around in a hot panic, and not much got done.

There was no rehearsal the following day, and the day after that, it snowed.

So far, so good.

At the next rehearsal Jen gave me a list of actors’ measurements and what garments were still needed. I intended to look for costumes in the costume barn but got side-tracked by a weird smell in the men’s dressing room, which turned out to be two pairs of dirty socks in a plastic bag thrown behind a chair months ago, and a cup of petrified coffee that must have been left there shortly after the Spanish conquest of South America.

Those attended to, I turned my attention to neckties. There are about 200 ties hanging on the back of the dressing room door, and there’s a bin of bow-ties. There is also a garment bag filled with maybe 1,000 ties that showed up mysteriously one day in the dressing room. Not too many people know it’s there, and grateful as we are for the donation, no one wants to deal with it. Too many ties. I sent several actors to the dressing room and let them choose the ties they liked from the back of the door. All was calm, all was bright for the moment.

As I ran upstairs, downstairs, to the costume barn, over to the costume attic and back to the barn, I had a funny little feeling that I might be able to do this.

Those actors on-stage will be wearing costumes I chose for them.

However, the lists of what is needed became a new obsession with which I walk around all day: Does Warren have socks? Did he remember to bring them to the theater? Mrs. Hagget said she would get her own knee-high stockings at the pharmacy; why hasn’t she done it yet? Dr. Hagget needs a button-down vest because he wears a pocket watch on a chain. I looked through every vest we have and didn’t find one in his size; oh, no, am I going to have to make one? There’s no time!

The director doesn’t like Tallant’s boots; they’re shabby, so I polished them, but the laces are frayed and might not last. Mrs. Hagget wore those shoes in the last play she did at Stagecrafters. Why are they uncomfortable now? Did Rosen bring his socks to the theater? Where are they? We can’t put hats on the actresses until after the wig lady fits their wigs, which she did the other night, but now it’s snowing and rehearsal is cancelled. When can I go look at hats?

Other areas of my life like buying food and prescriptions and talking to my family moved to the back burners of my mind. Costumes took over, and the characters became real people who needed clothing.

And most strangely of all, once the shock and terror wore off, I felt a new sense of something close to competence. Being costume director has become something I care about, something I want to do well. The lists are important to me, and the only thing keeping me from getting everything done on time is myself. And I won’t let that happen.

I can’t; people are depending on me, and I’m in charge.

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