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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Elphaba: Dressing the Part

Ah, the inner-workings of a mega-hit musical. Yawn. Old news. Getting painted green? Please, they do that in Shrek: The Musical -- PLUS he wears a prosthesis, which is cooler, so whatever, it's over.

Reader, that hurts. I mean, it's been only seven months and already you've moved on to someone else? What did I do? What can I do?

I don't know, you tell me! You write less frequently, you promise articles and then never deliver, and when you do they're short and uninspired. Let's face it: you've changed.

Then I can change, still! What can I say to make us feel young again, like we'd just met, held hands for the first time, skipped through the San Francisco Tenderloin and pretended it was a meadow of sunflowers instead of a strange wasteland of destitution? .... I know! I'll write a post on my personal hero, Kathleen Giordano, Elphaba Dresser Extraordinaire!

(End of weird paragraphs-as-dialogue convention.)

So I've been planning this post on Kathleen for basically months but kept putting it off because I wanted it to be totally rad, like a kind of Vanity-Fair-meets-Rolling-Stone-type investigation -- which is to say, part interview, part cultural essay, part meditation on modern masculinity -- but I, in my crazed craziness, never quite got my act together. (Also I realized that those Vanity Stone articles are annoying, especially when they're celebrity portraits. The details are so random, and somehow everything is supposed to be sexy: She eats the iceberg wedge with her hands but smokes the cigarette in a holder. She blames her parents. "To Mama I was the iceberg, to Papa, the cigarette." I offer her a napkin. She takes a drag. And I thought I had issues.)

Speaking of random details, I'm selling my leather couch on Craigslist for cheap. If you want to buy it, email me.

Enough preamble! Presenting:

KATHLEEN MY DRESSER IS WAY AWESOME AND HERE IS WHAT SHE DOES OKAY THANKS BYE!

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a dresser (as I was when I was first hired by WICKED), their job is to relieve from the actor the stress and chaos incurred by costume changes, upkeep, and other backstage logistics. Whereas, say, in high school and college productions my castmates and I were individually responsible for our own backstage shenanigans (costumes, props, wigs, makeup, etc.), now that I'm in the Big Leagues, as it were, I have a super duper profesh dresser to do all that crazy stuff for me. What kind of stuff? Glad you asked!

1. Costume Upkeep
Kathleen, along with all the other dressers (and there are quite a few -- Glinda, for example, is assigned her own, and the other principals share several among them, as do the ensemble men and women), are in charge of keeping WICKED's ridiculously intricate (*cough cough* expensive) costumes in tip-top shape. This involves, but is not limited to, the following action verbs, here presented as gerunds: ironing, pressing, steaming, hanging, dry cleaning, washing, repairing, sewing, patching, tailoring, adjusting, preening. The list goes on.

This kind of upkeep occurs before and after the shows, usually during the day. And it's a TON of work. Just the other day I told Kathleen that my white jacket (which I wear after "Popular" through "One Short Day") felt like it was, uh, getting a little tight (the fabric shrinks, I swear! It's like a Chinese finger trap!), and within hours she had altered it to fit me.

2. Dressing Room Upkeep / The Elphaba Hand-Off
I share my Elphaba Dressing Room with the lovely and talented Marcie Dodd, which means double the pleasure, double the fun. Or, more accurately, double the confusion, double the headache. But Kathleen handles this dual love affair with grace and ease! Since Marcie and I don't share costumes, in the event that I go on it's up to Kathleen to switch out all of Marcie's stuff for mine.

This "stuff" includes costumes, shoes (three pairs each) and other miscellany, like knee-pads (which, SURPRISE, I wear under my costume!), my Shiz glasses, my special Entertainer's Secret throat-coat spray, my water bottle(s), the soft zipper-backed t-shirt that I wear under my Elphaba Act II dress (without it, the fabric would scratch my fair part-Irish skin!), my "No Good Deed" wings, my pointed hats, etc. etc. etc.

Furthermore, my dressing room belongings extend beyond the realm of onstage paraphernalia. I also have to have my makeup case, my headband (to pull my hair back while I'm getting painted green), my green flip-flops (for when I shower after the show), and my life-sized cutout of Barack Obama (kidding about that last one). Bottom line: there's a lot of s*** to take care of in the dressing room.

3. Physically Putting My Clothes On and Taking Them Off
This is perhaps the single-most indispensable aspect of having a dresser: they physically put your clothes on and take them off you. Out of context, this may make me sound entitled, or kinky, or like a weird incapable gimp. But when the costumes are as complex as those in WICKED, it really helps to have a certified expert straightening your seams and sticking your arm where it belongs. Quick changes? No biggie. Hard-to-reach buttons? Whatever, no problem. Skin-tight nylon made to look like your green skin? So comfortable! (At least, it is when you have a dresser to help you.) Some specific examples of when Kathleen's assistance is truly invaluable are during my two quick changes, one right after "Popular," and right before "One Short Day."

4. Pampering Me Because I Am A Baby
Then there are times when I am so overwhelmed that I literally need Kathleen to baby me.

The most ubiquitous of these moments involve some kind of refueling. Before I run on for the final scene/song in Act I, "Defying Gravity," Kathleen provides me with a water bottle full of room-temperature water, as well as my trusty throat spray (we affectionately refer to it as "crack"). As I'm running down the stairs to get to the trap door elevator before "No Good Deed," Kathleen is always waiting at the bottom of the stairs to hand me my water bottle -- always to my left hand, because I'm carrying the train of my dress in my right. I complete the hand-off as I enter through the orchestra pit doorway and give the water bottle to one of our three stage managers.

Another example? After "No Good Deed" I run off stage right and am greeted by Kathleen and Mark, our wig supervisor. Between the two of them, I am pampered to no end: I sip water, while Mark does my hair and wipes my forehead with a Kleenex, and Kathleen holds a mini-electric fan to my face and sweeps it around to cool me off. It's almost like a day at the spa, except I'm panting, heaving and sweating like an irritated farm animal.

And sometimes, yes, my hands are full because I'm doing a quick change, or sipping from my water bottle, or getting a wig change, and time is so short that I literally need Kathleen to wipe my nose. Yep. You heard me. Obviously not one of our more dignified interactions, and I mention it not to diminish what Kathleen does, but to enumerate further just HOW CRUCIAL she is to the success of my performances.

5. Helping Me Up Ladders and Stairs
Finally, there are the moments when Kathleen follows me up various hazardous pathways and holds my dress to ensure that I don't trip or get stuck, as in right before I enter for "Wonderful" and right before I pop up out of the trap door in Act II. In the case of the latter(/ladder) the conditions under the stage are far more sparse than you'd imagine: I basically climb up a twelve-ish foot ladder and crouch down beneath the trap door waiting for my cue. My long, flowy dress is somewhat cumbersome, so Kathleen climbs up with me and holds my dress until the moment I appear onstage. CRAZY!!!!

And that, my friends, concludes what may be the longest Unnaturally Green post ever. And it was decidedly unlike anything that would appear in Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone -- or any other reputable publication, for that matter.

But I hope it means something to you. Look at me. I said look at me, damnit! Read my writing and tell me it doesn't mean something to you! I'm willing to make it work, if you are. Please? See if we can't give it another try?

You know where to find me,
Felicia.

30 comments:

  1. I appreciate the fact that the tags "Marcie Dodd " and "Wiping my nose" are next to each other.

    Great post Fel. It's always so great to log in and see what behind the scenes info I get next!

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  2. ohmann, that's intensee. i didn't realize it was that hard...but now i knoww. :)

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  3. Great post! I think everyone needs a Kathleen in their life.

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  4. I love it, you have given us so much behind the scenes info in such a short time. Please don't go away keep posting I am sure your adventures in the future will be something we all want to hear.
    Bwaymom

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  5. That I thought was a most excellent post. Thank you Felicia for the behind the scenes details of your dresser Kathleen. And I quite enjoy your posts, so I have no idea why people should say such things. ;)

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  6. Felicia, don't fret....you had us at "Unnaturally"!

    Love your writing, love your blog, love your spirit, and it's always fun to hear the details of you living such a big dream so young.

    Don't forget us all when you're rich and (even more) famous. ;-)

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  7. Hi5's!! I just love your blog! So cool to get a behind the scenes look. Kathleen prolly would like a leather couch.
    Please tell us your return to NYC involves a stay at the Gershwin. Nothing would make me happier than to see you and Katie Clarke rockin the witch shiz!
    *looks at you*

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  8. It means something.
    <3

    (And I hope when you leave SF you get to experience it all over again...on Broadway...in NYC...please...yup...)

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  9. I love hearing about all the interworkings backstage!

    Also, I wish I had the need/space for your lovely couch.

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  10. We're still here (even those of us who lurk, laugh and never comment) and you're still hilarious. Don't change <3

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  11. Great post! Now how does one get a job like Kathleen's? Or any kind of behind the scenes or administrative position on a Bway show?

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  12. You are the best, Felicia! Thanks for letting us in, behind the scenes! I've seen the show eight times as of today (saw Marcie today for the first time and although she was great, I really missed seeing you!).

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  13. thanks felicia for the great post, as always! today, i got to watch the show, again, but unfortunately i didn't get to watch you perform like i had hoped for. which leads to my question...
    since eden left, why couldn't you take her place, as the principal elphaba? especially since you're the stand by. i don't want to seem rude, but clearly you are a fantastic elphaba. i could understand if they found a better one, but this doesn't seem to be the case. they must look at a lot of other different factors that a regular by stander,
    like myself, doesn't understand.
    i've been thinking and guessing all day long, trying to figure out the answer...
    please, can you just simply answer this question? i just don't understand it.
    oh, and as a stand-by, do you come out the stage door way before the shows over or do you have to wait until the show is completely done?
    thanks for all the insight, being such a great actress and for having the best blog ever!!

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  14. Dearest Felicia,
    1. I remain enamored and this will NEVER change.
    2. Kathleen's devoted attention and care truly rival that of any maternal icon!
    3. I now am in greater awe, after having learned of the extreme games you must perform backstage while alternately producing such glorious sound onstage.
    4. You're so FUNNY! Refreshing.
    Lovingly,
    Your FIRST Dresser!

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  15. Kathleen = legend. End of, I feel. Other than I heart your blog!

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  16. Always an inspiring, interesting read. Your posts are so eloquent, and a true joy to read. Your way with words is on par with your talent for singing, and that is a rare, beautiful thing.

    ~Nicole

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  17. Kathleen also needs a *kathleen* But thanks to Felicia, a job that can be demanding & exhausting is also a lot of FUN! We have a good time while working- how lucky is that? KG

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  18. KG! We are lucky indeed!

    Thanks, everybody, for the encouragement! I feel like this particular article's style rates high on the Let-My-Freak-Flag-Fly Scale. Which means y'all are FREAKS. (Just kidding.)

    To answer @alexand's question, in as few words as possible: I totally understand where you're coming from (and thanks for the vote of confidence!), but it's kind of like asking somebody in a business setting why he or she wasn't promoted to CEO. There are a million factors that go into that kind of top-tier decision making. And, at the end of the day, my level of understanding of how Wicked works is more or less the same as, well, yours.

    The bottom line is, I have scores of faith in the creative team pulling the strings. They've been doing this for years, and they know what works. Marcie is BADASS -- as seasoned an Elphaba as many of the other greats, and is doing a phenomenal job closing out this production's run.

    And remember that I'm still pretty new to the production, considering a lot of folks have been around for several years... But hopefully my time will come someday. Just keep thinking happy thoughts, I suppose. :)

    As always, I appreciate the support!

    Talk soon,
    F.

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  19. Thank you for using the word "ubiquitous" in your post. It made me smile.

    Sincerely,
    A Word Nerd (aka, a fellow English major.)

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  20. Felicia you are just so talented and funny! I always look forward to your next blog- I live in the UK and although I have never seen you live, I love finding out what you're up to!! Please keep blogging, because I have not yet been lucky enough to come see you!!

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  21. Love it! i do see Kathleen sometimes off stage during the show. and i sometimes peek at the Orchestra pit before Elphie come up the trap door before NGD when i'm seating in Row A. i see her and Elphie running to the door or cage :)

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  22. felicia - thanks for responding to my question: why wern't you next in line as lead elphaba? i figured there has got to be millions of reasons why... i guess show business is very political, just like everything/everywhere else. i understand... you've gotta put in your time. plus, maybe some leads compliment other leads ie: you and kendra sounded great together! maybe one could over power another? - and that wouldn't be a good match, right!? thank you -you're such a positive person with such a great outlook! i love that in you! well, i'm sure you will go far in your career and life - you've got everything going for you! thanks again for all the enjoyment you've given us all!

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  23. I have just googled Entertainer's Secret and there really is such a thing. good tip, thanks. They even have a Facebook page.

    I can imagine with the intensity and adrenaline rush of giving it your all, having somebody like your Kathleen is such a blessing.

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  24. To the Word Nerd:
    You singled out "ubiquitous" with nary a mention of "gerunds"? It sent me straight to wikipedia (I know, I know...just lazy I guess ;)
    ~Ed, whose Dad was a teacher and gave me "ubiquitious" as an SAT word in 11th grade. (It was on the freakin test, too!)

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  25. Hey there my name is Andrew! I just came across your blog after someone posted it on Broadway world. I also have a cute little theatre blog if you wanna check it out and follow me as I have followed your blog. Tell all your theatre friends if you enjoy my posts! I'll post about you on facebook! Thanks,
    Andrew
    http://memoirsoftheatredork.blogspot.com/

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  26. Felicia,
    I had the amazing opportunity to watch you preform as Elphaba in Wicked last night. I was completely wow-ed by your preformance, and voice. You are my broadway idol.
    I'm training to become an actress, but whenever I'm about to go on stage or audition I get butterflys and a little more timid. What can I do to help that?
    ~ Young Actress

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  27. All I can say is - Kathleen's awesome! This is one of those times when you can say "What will I ever do without you?" and really mean it. ;-)

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  28. Saw you last night as Elphaba and enjoyed the show and your performance and am now reading through your blog which is also very enjoyable and informative. Thanks and good luck in the future.

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  29. Felicia,
    I love reading your blog! It is so funny and insightful! Keep on blogging!!

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  30. LOVE your blog :)
    hehehe. thanks for posting! xx

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