The Dresser: A Look Backstage at The Matchmaker
This blog post is Emily Schweich, a sophomore Broadcast Journalism major.
Vibrant costumes and perfectly coiffed hairstyles shone on the Kay Theatre stage as the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies presented Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker this October. As the actors moved effortlessly around the stage in their 1880s attire, one could hardly believe that many of them walked into the dressing room bare-faced, wearing sweatpants and some ponytails, just an hour before the show.
It’s like this pressure hour. They come in in sweatpants, with no makeup on, no pin curls, nothing. They have to completely redo their hair, do their face and put on this multi-layered, multi-piece costume.
During this pre-show scramble, it’s up to the dressers to help the actors with their multi-layered costumes, props, hair, wigs and makeup. But their responsibilities don’t end there – dressers can play a vital role in establishing a positive energy backstage.
Sophomore Marina di Marzo, a theatre performance and broadcast journalism double major, assisted in costume construction and worked as a dresser for the show. She was responsible for keeping track of all of the costume pieces and props, lacing the women into their costumes and pinning on their wigs, assisting with quick changes during the show and of course, her favorite duty – doing the laundry after every performance. While her job started as a practicum requirement for her theatre degree, it became something that she thoroughly enjoyed. I got an inside look at what goes on backstage during the production.
Emily Schweich: What’s the most challenging aspect about being a dresser?
Marina di Marzo: Getting everyone out on time. It depends on the day because sometimes the ladies are really excited to get out there and they move really fast. Some days, when the energy is low, they move around slowly, and you kind of have to encourage them a little bit more.
It’s like this pressure hour. They come in in sweatpants, with no makeup on, no pin curls, nothing. They have to completely redo their hair, do their face and put on this multi-layered, multi-piece costume. You have to be lit for that whole hour and completely ready to go. That’s definitely the challenge.
ES: How do the costumes help the actors get into character?
MDM: Every character’s nuances are in the costumes. I think that really helps the actors too, because I saw the show without costumes when they did the run-through, and it’s amazing, within four days, the show had completely changed. I think the costumes helped them get that boost and enhance their character quality a bit.
ES: How was your experience working with the actors?
MDM: It’s a great family. When I first started working, my manager said to me, “You’re the first thing they see when they walk into the dressing room, so you have to make sure that every day you’re high energy and you’re ready to go.” So I’ve kind of adopted the role of dressing room comedian, and then in that hour when we get ready for the show, I always prepare little stories and things to tell them to get them laughing and get them excited and have that energy. So that’s really interesting, because without even realizing it, I became the warm-up comedian for the sitcom.
ES: Looking back on the experience, how do you feel about it? Would you do it again?
MDM: I would summarize the whole thing as bittersweet. There’s a lot of pressure to get [the actors] out, but once you get them out, you get that feeling of establishment. It’s fun to be with the cast, but then when the cast leaves, you have to deal with their dirty laundry. But it’s a great time; I didn’t think it would be this awesome! I definitely want to do it again.