Kozzii has interviewed wardrobe professionals working on some of the biggest, high budget shows on the planet. But the world of theatre is split right down the middle, between commercial venues/producers, and those theatres operating within the subsidised sector. Often it is here where the most exciting and creative work takes place. Regional theatres across the country, whilst often having smaller budgets, create new work and revivals that go on to be some of the most successful shows in the country. But what’s it like working in wardrobe at a regional theatre?
We took some time to talk to Annabeth Fernley, an experienced Wardrobe Assistant who has worked extensively in the wardrobe department in the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester, one of the UK’s top regional producing theatres, often described as the National Theatre of the North. Annabeth’s main areas of expertise include breaking down, supervising, and dressing.
Here’s what she had to say about working within one of the UK’s most loved regional theatres.
What’s your role?
I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, dressing, breaking down, assisting and supervising. I like to try and mix it up to keep things fresh but I’m sure one day I’ll pick a favourite!
What sorts of things do you do and describe your average day?
I’m not sure you could call any day in theatre ‘average’ but I’ll give it a go. This week I’m working in a dye room at a Big regional theatre so I guess that’s a good place to focus. I start by making a list of what needs to be done throughout the day and then it’s a bit of a juggling act of which garment to start on first. I’ll make a start doing a few washes and giving things a sand and some dry brushing. While I wait for something to dry a little I will make progress on something else. As a general rule I prefer dying fabrics in the morning when I have a clear head! During technical rehearsals, the designer will give notes as they see things on stage and then I can build up the breaking down to the right level. Everything looks different under the lights!
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I guess the creativity is my favourite bit. Being given an idea by a designer and then going through the process of making it come to life! I love the challenge of getting a material to the exact colour or perfect level of distress the designer imagines, creating samples and testing out different techniques to get to the final product.
What’s like working for a regional theatre?
It’s great working in regional producing theatres as there’s always new exciting work being made. Seeing creatives and performers from the area getting there work put onstage makes me very proud. I’ve done very little work in London so I haven’t got much to compare it to.
Are there any downsides to the job?
I’ve been freelance for a few years now and I think everyone has those moments where they’re exhausted working 50 hours+ and just don’t want to be looking for there next job when they get home. The constant insecurity can definitely be tough.
How does it compare with touring life?
I guess for me the main difference is not having your own bed! Touring can be really exciting and you get to see new places every week, reinventing a wardrobe set up for every venue. I love the challenge of making a show you know really well fit into a different environment. If it’s a longer tour you really start to feel like a family, you have to work as a team and look out for each other as it’s easy to get homesick. It’s also great getting to meet the permanent staff at a different theatre and learn different techniques from them.
How did you get into your line of work and do you have any advice for those wanting to get similar positions?
I did an apprenticeship at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. It took a year and a half and it meant I got to learn about all the different areas of Wardrobe. I definitely learn better doing things myself and so it was perfect to be thrown into the work environment and learn skills from people actually in the industry!