Behind the scenes at Land of the Sweets Part 1: Wardrobe Mistress Taffeta V.
~ Written by Jessica Price (this article will also print in this week’s Seattle Gay News)
Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann’s annual “spectacle of ecdysiastic pageantry” Land of the Sweets: the Burlesque Nutcracker high kicks into its seventh season this week, pirouetting and peeling through 30 shows in the warm subterranean depths of the Triple Door. In this Nutcracker reimagining familiar characters take on a slightly more sensual twist, reveling in the holidays while warming up those cold extremities in the most pleasurable ways. There’s a little burlesque, a little drag, and a formidable core of professional dancers: this year’s cast features members formerly of Spectrum Dance Theater, Ballet Bellevue, and the Nevada Ballet Theatre in addition to core cast Waxie Moon, Miss Indigo Blue, Kitten LaRue, and of course, Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann. The mix of talent in the ensemble amounts to an evening both bawdy and traditional – the ideal way for holiday audiences to get a little cozier with Seattle’s thriving burlesque scene.
Amidst all this revelry and star power, one might wonder what it takes to pull off 30 shows in just over two weeks during peak holiday season. Who exactly is minding those fancy underpinnings and assisting all those warm bodies with quick changes? The enigmatically named Taffeta V. has served twice as Land of the Sweets Wardrobe Mistress and has worked on all Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann productions for the past year and a half. Just before opening night, Taffeta took a moment to dish about the world behind the curtain:
Jessica Price: How would you describe your role as Wardrobe Mistress for Land of the Sweets? What does it entail throughout the run?
Taffeta V.: It’s primarily organization, quick and sturdy repairs, dressing/quick changes, and cleaning. A typical day starts with early arrival at the theatre, a check of the racks to ensure all of the little pieces are there, mending (there’s ALWAYS mending), then lots and lots of steaming and ironing. Then we start the first show, and at that point I am either dressing cast members or re-hanging garments until the end. At the “turn” (when the house clears and we have a quick dinner and prep for the second show), I reset everything and start again. After the second show is complete (or third show, if it’s a Sunday) and everything is back in place, I’ll look over notes and gather my homework: mending and laundry items.
Price: Is every night a new challenge, or do you find that things settle into a pretty predictable routine?
Taffeta V.: There’s never a routine – always a new repair, or perhaps some new bit of embellishment that the Producers request. They’re improving things all the time to keep it fresh for the audience. Plus, it’s live theatre – one never knows what can happen! And almost anything can…certain elements are predictable though; we find that quick changes get better and better as the run goes on, for instance.
Price: It all seems so glamourous, all those costume changes – what is it like looking after a cast of this size, and how many costumes and bodies are we talking about?
Taffeta V.: It IS glamourous! But this level of glamour is indeed tough to wrangle. I believe we have 18 in the cast, and I can’t even tell you how many costumes – LOTS. The backstage quarters are incredibly tight, and this is where proper organization comes into play. That, and stamina.
Price: What are some of your essentials for getting through a back to back run of this volume?
Taffeta V.: We spray down the costumes with alcohol after each number, which helps keep them smelling fresh (which, in turn, helps to minimize the number of times we launder or dry clean, thus preserving the life of the garment). Having a really complete kit on hand with a wide variety of fasteners, adhesives, stain removers, tools, etc. is a real life saver. Staying hydrated and well-fed is essential, since sleep happens less during the run. And I hate to admit it, but I drink loads of caffeine!
Price: What has been the most rewarding part of being behind the scenes?
Taffeta V.: It’s such an intense experience, because it’s a long run and a large cast – its cliché, but there’s a sense of familial connection that develops. That’s the biggest benefit. Otherwise, there are too many hilarious, enlightening, and unforgettable moments backstage to count – I could never choose!
Price: What’s your biggest nightmare scenario?
Taffeta V.: Ugh. I don’t even want to think about it! In another show, I once accidentally burned a performer with an iron (pale showgirl flesh! Ruined!), and I wanted to die. That kind of thing is the worst.
Price: What costumes require the most TLC throughout the run?
Taffeta V.: Danial Hellman’s beautiful Stargazer gown for Miss Verlaine is an intricate and incredibly high-end construction, and it’s HUGE. We’ve had to invent clever ways to store it so that is does not get damaged, and it is really a work of art that requires some love and gentle handling.
Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker runs December 11 – 27 at the Triple Door. Please visit http://thetripledoor.net/Calendar or www.landofthesweets.com for tickets and show times. Please visit Taffeta at www.taffetav.com. All performance photos by POC (for inquiries, email email@example.com).