The dresser is part of the wardrobe department of a theatre who tends to be the unsung hero and deals with actors in some of the most intimate moments within a production. You usually find a dresser in a theatre for both drama and dance but you can find them on film and television sets. You also find them in fashion shows and other places where actors and models are in need of help getting their costumes or fashions off and on. They are a fairly recognisable bunch wearing the techie uniform of black and a string of safety pins attached to their shirt, with a tendency to straighten your clothing if you get too close.

A dresser will begin their day in the wardrobe department ironing and pressing clothes and checking if all the costumes needed by the actor are where they should be. Most dressers will have a running sheet listing the costume changes, the scene, the time frame for the change, the side of stage for quick changes and the garments involved. Some productions will only need one dresser for the entire cast; more elaborate productions a dresser for each principle. Many tiny productions, actors have to wing quick changes on their own.

The dresser would then spend time in dressing rooms helping with difficult costumes, period pieces such as Elizabethan or a novelty costume. An actor and dresser can develop close relationships due to the fact that the dresser can see them in their most intimate moments: undressed, suffering from stage fright or dealing with personal issues.

The dresser will the double check their pre set costumes just before the show goes on. This setting up is vitally important if there are quick changes. A quick change is when there is a requirement for an actor to change from one costume into another in a short space of time. When I was training for dressing the shortest complete change was 15 seconds. Whoa! That is crazy talk, you say? It is not impossible to change a grown person from one costume to another costume excluding underwear in almost complete silence, it just takes some tricks of the trade so to speak.

The Space

The quick change generally occurs in the wings, sometimes behind a screen for modesty's sake. This means that silence is generally required for changes due to the close proximity of the audience. It is also not unusual for it to occur on stage behind a flat or even in front of the audience such as during The Phantom of the Opera when Christine is changed for the Hannibal scene.

The Setup

The setup is all-important, the placement of garments, chair and table to make things easier to reach and in the right order in the shortest space of time. Here are some basic guide lines:

  • Skirts placed on the floor with the shoes inside so you can just step into it. If there is a hooped petticoat such as a farthingale or bustle it is possible to place the overskirt over the petticoat and step into the two at once. The placement of shoes in the skirt means you can step into the skirt and shoes at the same time.
  • When dealing with a shirt or blouse do not unbutton them all the way as it is quicker to bring them over the head (providing they are not wearing a wig!).
  • A jacket draped on the back of a chair allows you to present it as if you are about to put it on when picking it up from the chair.
  • Things like scarves, cravats, ties and socks are easily accessible if carried on the shoulder.
  • Small accessories are best placed on a table within easy reach, necklaces and earrings unclasped, gloves facing the direction they will be picked up from and hats out of the way as they are always the last item to go on.
  • Speaking of hats, the bane of a dresser's life is the wig, there can be a number of changes for an actor in some productions, but in others it can be the same wig throughout the show. This causes more hassles at times as they are prone to come off at the worst possible times and fall to the floor which is not good for the wig. In larger productions this is not an issue as there is a poor wretch assigned to the management of wigs. As a dresser if the wig came off I generally put it back on and hoped for the best, maybe with a bit of smoothing or fluffing if required.
  • When removing clothes don't bother with trying to fold them neatly as they come off unless they are not very sturdy, you can deal with them after the change.

The Final Check

Once you have dressed your actor it is important to check they are ready to go out into the spotlight all fastenings are secure and their make-up not smudged etc. They should look as presentable as if they had taken all day to get ready or as if they have been in a bar brawl, whichever they case may be.

Dressing Kit

Dressing kits contain all one needs to deal with emergencies in the wings. The contents varies from dresser to dresser. This is what mine contains:

  • Safety pins, the cure for all evils; missing buttons, dropped hems etc.
  • Needles already threaded with dark thread and light thread.
  • Band-Aids for blisters
  • Small scissors, for snipping those pesky dangling threads.
  • Gaffer tape, the fix all in theatre.
  • Rescue tape, a double sided tape that can be stuck to skin.
  • A small torch with blue filter to reduce the chances the audience seeing the light.
  • A book to read in the long boring bits between frenzied activity.
  • Running sheet of the production.

Things to remember:

  • Always have a dressing kit.
  • Remember quiet in the wings is the key.
  • If the actor trusts you it goes better.
  • Practice of quick changes make perfect.
  • And last of all Don’t Panic!

Dressing is an important role and helps a production run smoothly, it is a role that consists of short bursts of complete mayhem and flying clothes and long bouts of sitting in dark wings watching the same scene for the umpteenth time. It is a great bonding experience and the relationship between dresser and actor can be very close. Some high profile actors, dancers and singers insist on bring their own personal dresser. More than a person who knows how to put clothes in the right order, a dresser is the reason that writers and directors can have a completely believable season change in a scene change and blackout.

Dress"er (?), n.

1.

One who dresses; one who put in order or makes ready for use; one who on clothes or ornaments.

2. (Mining)

A kind of pick for shaping large coal.

3.

An assistant in a hospital, whose office it is to dress wounds, sores, etc.

4. [F. dressoir. See Dress, v. t.]

(a)

A table or bench on which meat and other things are dressed, or prepared for use.

(b)

A cupboard or set of shelves to receive dishes and cooking utensils.

The pewter plates on the dresser
Caught and reflected the flame, as shields of armies the sunshine.
Longfellow.

 

© Webster 1913


Dress"er, n. [F. dressoir. See Dress, v. t.]

A piece of chamber furniture consisting of a chest of drawers, or bureau, with a mirror. [U. S.]

 

© Webster 1913

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