Friday, 31 December 2010

Ballet in boxes, in bags, on rails in fact everywhere!

I recently blogged about working with English National Ballet on The Nutcracker. There is so much to say about this Ballet company but in this post I will mostly let the pictures do the talking. I feel they show just how much work and organization goes into such a company.

The shoe room! 
Dancers will go through many, many shoes during a production. 

The fabric store.

Covered and labelled rails of costumes in storage from ENB's repertoire.

The wardrobe work room

Tutus are stored upside down in purpose made boxes to avoid drooping.

The work area as The Nutcracker was being prepared.

The purpose built sinks for washing tutus, this makes a very awkward job so much easier.

While we were preparing The Nutcracker in Kent the ITVnews filmed a short piece about ENB.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Nutcracker prepares

English National Ballet mounted a new production of the Nutcracker this winter. I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks working on the preparations. ENB have a base in kent were they store all their costumes and sets and keep their workshops. This was where we spent our preparation time, costumes were delivered and we labelled mountains of tights, pants, shirts and hats.  For the first time, some rehearsals were held there too.

There is a wonderful mixture of costumes in the Nutcracker, the mice heads I found particularly good. Large shiny eyes, huge teeth and wiry hair. They were quite light and had lots of holes and gaps for the dancers to see through. The tails too were stunning, the adult male tales are attached to a jockstrap worn over their tights. The children's tales are on a strong velcro strap.

Some of my time was spent hand sewing crinoline net on the back of hair decorations. The crin as it is commonly known is stiff and hairpins are secured to the head through this. Most costume hats that will not be removed during a show will be secured this way. Crin comes in various colours so can be matched to the hair or wig of the wearer so as to camouflage it. 

The soldiers hats are kept in place with an elastic chin strap. These are usually covered in flesh coloured pancake make-up and the top edges of elastic darkened with felt pen to match the wearers sideburns.

In an early scene ice skaters take to the stage. These skates worked on large ball bearings. They were very heavy but made a convincing effect in the scene. 

The level of detail and embellishment on the costumes is stunning. This production will be remounted for years to come so the costumes have to be strong enough to withstand a lot of wear and tear. 

Most of the costumes are made to fit several bodies as the casts change constantly and dancers may play several different parts in one week. For example, say there are 10 mice costumes, At ENB the costumes have a number written in the corner of the label. Wardrobe have a list of which dancers fit which costumes, checking which dancers are playing mice for that performance the costumes are allotted to the correct dancers dressing room. 

So dancer A can fit in costume 3, 7 or 8. Dancer B fits 3, 7 and 9 and dancer C 1, 4 and 8 etc. It is a kind of costume Sudoku and a casting can change a little before curtain up due to injury so the wardrobe team are kept very much on their toes, especially during a busy Christmas season when the schedule has two shows a day for much of the week.

In a previous post I wrote about the horse costumes on Dancing on ice, I didn't realize I would be featuring horses quite so soon again. The toy soldiers during their battle with the Mouse king appear briefly on these beautiful creations. Having been on stage already the dancers have just a few bars of music to get off stage into their horses and back on again.  The horses are set very carefully on the floor so the dancers can step straight into them then pull the braces over their shoulders. They are then handed a sword and away they go.

For the final dress rehearsals and then performances we moved into The Coliseum on St Martin's Lane in Covent Garden. This is were decisions are made about were quick changes should take place and fine tuning of scene-changes.  Everyone is tired from the long days rehearsing. In my opinion having worked on Ballet, Opera, Theatre, comedy and all sorts of light entertainment, Ballet is the one performing art where every department has it equally hard. I don't want to put actors or anyone else down but the schedule that Ballet dancers work to is incredible. It is more than a profession it is a vocation and as you can tell I am rather in awe.

A week after being backstage for the opening night I was lucky enough to see The Nutcracker from the audience perspective, so often impossible when working on a show. The Ballet was magical, the costumes looked stunning and the dancing breathtaking. I do hope some of you had the chance to see it too, I look forward to any comments from those of you who did. Later in 2011 Sky Arts will be showing a documentary all about English National Ballet so do look out for that. 

Friday, 10 December 2010

Shakespeare at The Old Vic

 Image from The Oxford Times
Image from London

 I spent the summer of 2010 dressing at The Old Vic. It's a beautiful theatre in Waterloo in South East London. I have worked there before and count the two permanent members of the wardrobe team as good friends. The bridge project is a joint venture with a Brooklyn theatre. This year they produced two Shakespeares, The Tempest and As you like it. With a large cast made up of British and American actors. The shows started in New York, toured several venues around the world then came to London.  After that it had one more venue in Northern Spain which I was able to work on too. 

The set of As you like it.

Both productions were set in a nonspecific period. 'As you like it' had turn of the century evening dress in the early court scenes, 1950's cotton dresses and shabby looking suits in the forest scenes. For the winter scenes many large coats and shawls were worn. This was rather unfortunate for the actors as the summer was a hot one. 

Likewise The Tempest had a mixture of styles. Evening dress, military uniforms and spirits in grey suits, shirtless and shoeless. Ariel had a huge and heavy pair of iron wings to wear. It took two people to hold them while he fastened himself into the harness and the same once he had edged carefully off stage and took them off again.

Rehearsals for The Tempest

As you like it ended its run in London but The Tempest went on to Aviles in Northern Spain. I was lucky enough to go along too. With only a few polite words of Spanish and dressers who spoke only a little English it was tricky trying to explain our requirements but the dressers were experienced and all went well. Aviles was holding its annual festival which we were part of. Also the Spanish premier of Woody Allen's latest film was on in the same week and we were all invited to the film and party. My one and only experience on the red carpet was great fun particularly being snapped by the Spanish paparrazzi because they had no idea whether we were important or not. 

There was very little English spoken in Aviles and the town seemed a little bemused by the presence of us all but the play was surtitled and seemed to be appreciated. I had a wonderful time in this medieval town and very fond memories of the plays and my colleagues for that summer.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tales from a boathouse!

I talked about a photo shoot on the hottest day of the year for the Theatre production of Brief Encounter in my last post. Some weeks later I met the actors again for a piece of filming on a much colder day. Some of the film footage used in the play was to be reshot, this involved a river boat scene and the leading lady playing the piano (not at the same time!).

Arriving in Richmond at 7am with all the costumes and Anna the make-up artist we were the first to arrive. Eventually the rest of the crew arrived and crucially the keyholder of the boathouse that we were to use as a dressing room. I have set up in strange areas before but nowhere quite like this. I think the pictures tell quite an accurate story. We had of course been told there would be a mirror and somewhere to hang things. This wasn't the case, Anna managed in poor light to do a very professional job and I precariously hung my costumes off of various bits of wood above our heads. 

I didn't mention to my colleagues about the rat i saw while they were occupied until after we had left the boathouse.

I really felt for the actors during this cold September morning, out on the river rowing hard for take after take. It was supposed to be over quite quickly but for reasons i don't understand we ran over time by a long way.

After we had finished filming in Richmond we moved on to some studios in Waterloo. Using green screen techniques the actress Hannah Yelland had to recreate playing the piano for the final scene of the play. Her hands wouldn't be seen so she played a wooden desk.

I really wish i could have seen the production it looks wonderful. If you are in the New York area it is playing until 2nd January 2011. Do tell me if you go and what you think.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Brief Encounter for Vogue

A few years ago Knee High theatre company mounted a theatrical production of the film Brief encounter. It was played out in a cinema with a mixture of stage actors and film footage. the production was a huge success, toured the UK and played in America too. It is currently doing another long run in New York. I was involved in a one day photo shoot for American Vogue to promote the show. 

I collected the costumes and turned up at a street corner in Covent Garden with the phone number of my contact. One by one hair stylist, make-up artist, stylist, photographer and his assistants turned up. As did a large Winnebago. This was our dressing room. I set out and steamed the costumes, the actors arrived and hair and make-up did their thing. 

The female character had a very lovely 1940's wool suit and silk blouse. The gent a three piece suit and overcoat. This of course turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far, it was a hard day for them but they were very professional. We were right in Covent Garden piazza as apparently it had the look of an old railway station and the logistics of filming in an actual station were too complicated. The public were naturally baffled at what we were doing but many took photos anyway. 

The piece was for the September issue so i was quite excited about working on such a famous magazine and I thoroughly enjoyed the days work. I have to say though that getting paid has been a nightmare and five months later the matter is still not settled. To be so slack in paying a freelancer for their work is beyond me. It may be a trifle amount to such a large organization as Conde Nast but a days pay to a freelancer is vital. It has really soured what was otherwise a lovely job.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A final few words about Dancing on Ice

I have written a lot about the opening of this show as it was quite special. I don't have any photos of the rest of the show as i was always runing around too much to take any. As head of wardrobe once the show had started I would help Christopher Dean in his costume changes and Jayne Torvil with some of her changes too. In between those i would be catching up on paperwork and emails, ordering more tights etc. I would also try to tackle any repairs so that we had less to do the following day. Most of the costumes have to be handwashed so if they weren't being worn in the curtain call I or one of the team would set to and wash. On a load out day I would start to pack the roadcases as soon as the show had started. I could pack any clothes the judges and host weren't wearing that night ( they always have a choice of outfits). Then act one and most of our equipment would be packed. So by the time the show came down we only had to pack what was on the artists backs. The sooner we are packed up we can get on the bus and have a beer or get back to the hotel. If we are packed quickly it helps the smooth running of the load out for everyone else too. Wardrobe and catering are usually loaded on to the first truck. In some venues were the parking is limited if our truck is slow it has a knock on effect for the other departments.

As with any of the performing arts the costumes have their own requirements and an ice show is no different. Many hours are spent putting 20 inch zips in the inside leg of the mens trousers. These reach from the ankle to just above the knee and is done so that the trousers can be removed over the skates for a quick change. The ladies costumes are usually built around a leotard with small hooks and bars usually used as fastenings. Accessories might be armbands and necklaces but are usually kept to a minimum. Items that could get caught on a partner during a lift or fall onto the ice and become a hazard are best left off.

After the tour i took a little time off and then spent the summer working at The Old Vic theatre in Waterloo. It was a double bill of Shakespeare and i had a wonderful time. More on that soon...

Friday, 12 November 2010

Is it a bird? is it a plane? no it's a horse!

When I first heard about the flying horses naturally I didn't know what to expect. Then they arrived!

Rather cute they were too. The reigns were stiff and the heads loose so they could be animated. The skaters stepped into a large hole in the horses back and braces went over their shoulders.

Here is a picture from Rehearsals, the tails were too long so we had to trim them. We named them after the colour of their tails and ruffs, so in order we have Snowy, Jet, Saffron and Ruby.

Here are our fillies lined up backstage ready to go.

I don't have any photos of the horses in action as i was always running around at this point but here is some great footage of the opening from Youtube.