I often tell young folks looking for a career in
showbiz anything that choosing the right path in your field is like taking the SATs. Sometimes it’s easier to cross off the wrong answers until you find the right one.
For me, one of the jobs I crossed off early was working in a costume shop. I was horrible. Couldn’t sew, couldn’t hem, couldn’t deal with the actors who thought they looked fat (and that was my friend Joe, by the way).
I’ve always had great respect for folks who worked in wardrobe . . . and that respect grew 100 times when I met Jim Hall on my very first Broadway gig. I was the Associate Company Manager on Show Boat, and he was the Associate Wardrobe Supervisor. He even costumed the very first thing I produced in NYC – this horrible revue based on TV theme songs called . . . ahem . . . Prime Time! He’s since moved up the ladder and so have I (I was lucky enough to get him as my supervisor on Godspell).
And now he’s here to answer our 10 Questions for a Broadway Pro! Take it away, Jim-bo!
1. What is your title?
2. What shows are you currently working on?
3. In one sentence, describe your job.
I oversee all aspects of the wardrobe and the wardrobe department from the initial set up of the show during pre-production all the way through the pack out at closing.
4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?
Most obviously, you need to be great at organization, able to manage groups of people, make and balance budgets, be knowledgeable of fabrics, sewing, shoes, painting, dying, laundering, etc…but the greatest skill you need to be really successful, is the ability to relate to and understand people, individuals and group dynamics.
5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?
I attended the North Carolina School of the Arts for costume design & technology, but the best training I have had was to be an assistant to Debbie Cheretun for over 10 years. That’s where you learn, by watching and learning from someone else who has a wealth of knowledge.
6. What was your first job in theater?
I grew up doing children’s theater and quickly became involved with the behind the scenes elements, speciﬁcally costumes. My ﬁrst “job” was when I was 16 years old and was working/apprenticing at a summer stock theater. I designed their children’s show called Pandas From Outer Space. It was ridiculous. They had a lot of faith in me. I might have had a $200 budget and the use of their stock costumes. It was a great experience to make something out of nothing. I still enjoy doing that now when it’s needed.
7. Why do you think theater is important?
There’s a power in the exchange of energy that takes place during live theater that you can’t get while watching a movie or TV. That power has the ability to transform people, even if for just that brief moment of time while sitting in the theater. I love standing at the back of the house and watching patrons be absorbed into the moment. And then there are those shows/performances that shift your life permanently. You never forget them. You have a new perspective or you open up to something hidden within that needs to be released. It’s a special experience which stems from that exchange between audience and actor. Theater is transformative and builds relationships, with ourselves and with others.
8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
The greatest challenge for wardrobe supervisors is to maintain a joyful, positive attitude throughout the whole entire process. The wardrobe department never really gets to settle in to a run. We are constantly being thrown curve balls that need to be dealt with at a moment’s notice. It is very easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed, but the best choice you can make in that moment is the decision to handle it with grace & kindness.
9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?
Easy. I would make the work week be ﬁve days instead of six.
10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?
1) Take your time and learn as much as you can. 2) You don’t have to know or pretend to know everything. 3) Admit it when you make a mistake and forgive others for theirs. 4) Choose wisely who you hire & surround yourself with. 5) And for God’s sake, have fun!!
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