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Being a dresser on Broadway

Being a dresser is a role that is often misunderstood by those not working within theatre. “Do you just help actor’s get changed then?” is a common (if not annoying) question often asked after the obligatory “so what do you do?” at parties.

Whilst ‘helping actor’s get changed’ is part of the role, their is much more to it than that and if you work in wardrobe at some point in your career you will be putting on the head torch and working as a dresser.

So, it’s always good to hear from someone who is professional dresser, especially one who is working in one of the world’s busiest theatre districts…New York’s Broadway. took the time to speak with Lacie Bonanni, dresser on Broadway, to talk all things backstage.

Lacie has been a dresser for several years and has worked on big shows such as the 2014 revival of Caberet, Spiderman: Turn off the dark and Something Rotten!

TheatreNerds took Lacie through some of the most common questions dressers are asked.

What is a dresser?

Probably the most obvious question and one we’re sure you have been asked countless times if you work as one.
She said:

”Well, a dresser is a member of the wardrobe department whose job it is to assist their assigned actors into costume and help with any changes, especially quick changes. More often, a dresser will be assigned two or more people to dress.”

But it’s interesting to note how the workings of a dresser may differ slightly in the US than the UK.
Lacie said:

“Star dressers or principal dressers are the ones who are assigned to or requested by one actor, often the lead of the show.”

An interesting difference. But most things remain largely the same as here in Blighty (even if the duties have slightly different names)

”We also occasionally help with repairs, and there is a thing called “day work” where all the clothes get repaired and cleaned, steamed and ready for the show.”

Getting the part

Talking about how she got into dressing Lacie reveals that dressing was very much a family affair:

“My mom was a dresser for many years. She worked on “Rent,” “Nine,” “Jersey Boys, “On the Twentieth Century” and many more. So I’ve always known that world.”

And it was Lacies mum who pulled her in for her first dressing role.

”…my mother was working on “Spider-Man” and they suddenly needed another dresser, and very quickly I was suggested and brought in the next day.”

The difficulties of dressing

Talking about the difficulties that arise when on the job, Lacie revealed that one of the most difficult things is being a swing dresser:

“…quick changes can be difficult, but once you do it for a little while, it becomes like clockwork. One of the most difficult positions, though, is a swing dresser. As you know, Broadway shows have swing actors — actors who know every role in the show and can replace anyone at a moment’s notice. Well, dressers have the same position.”

Being a swing dresser is obviously a great learning curve, and Lacie suggests it was a highlight on the journey to becoming a fully fledged dresser:

” I enjoyed being a swing dresser, as it kept me on my toes and allows you to see how the whole machine of a show really works from many different perspectives.”

The quick change…

If your a dresser this is the part of  the job you eventually get down to a fine art. But their are always those quick changes that make you wake in a pool of sweat in the middle of the night even years later. Lacie talks briefly about one of her most memorable quick changes:

“One of my most involved quick-change was during “Spider-Man.” I had less than 30 seconds to get an actor out of about seven pieces of clothing, including a full head mask, and into six different pieces!”

Credit: Broadway Tour via flickr

Getting the job

If you haven’t dressed before, or your thinking of giving it a go, one of the questions you might be asking right now is ‘how do I become a dresser?’. Although Lacie works in the US, her advice on this is applicable anywhere there is a theatre culture:

” If you are still in school, volunteer in your school’s costume shop or at a local theatre. Touring shows also often hire local dressers for each stop, so you should inquire at your closest theatre that hosts national tours. If you’re in the city and hoping to be a dresser, try getting as many credits as you can, wherever you can.

And as usual, its all about who you know…

“Try Off-Broadway, children’s theatres, etc., and meeting as many people in the business as you can. Connections are always helpful for any job, really.”

Take a look at the full TheatreNerd interview with Lacie HERE

Do you work as a dresser? Got some advice for our readers? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch here.

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