, , ,

What It’s Like To Be A Broadway Dresser

Interview with Lacie Bonanni

I recently sat down with the stunningly beautiful Broadway dresser Lacie Bonanni, which was fairly easy because she is my wife! Lacie has been a dresser on Broadway for more than five years and worked at “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the 2014 revival of “Cabaret” and is currently at “Something Rotten!” at the St. James Theatre.

I always love watching her give backstage tours and seeing how fascinated people are about all the goings-on in the backstage world and finding out exactly what a dresser does. Here are some of the most common questions she gets asked:

What Is a Dresser?

Well, a dresser is a member of the wardrobe department whose job it is to assist their assigned actors into costume and help with any changes, especially quick changes. More often, a dresser will be assigned two or more people to dress. Star dressers or principal dressers are the ones who are assigned to or requested by one actor, often the lead of the show. We also occasionally help with repairs, and there is a thing called “day work” where all the clothes get repaired and cleaned, steamed and ready for the show. Every show has its own unique duties, too. In my current show, “Something Rotten!” we have to put tape over all the taps of the tap shoes so that the actors aren’t slipping on the stage when wearing them.

How Did You Get Into Dressing?

My way in was not the usual way. My mom was a dresser for many years. She worked on “Rent,” “Nine,” “Jersey Boys, “On the Twentieth Century” and many more. So I’ve always known that world. I also worked in the costume shop in college and worked in costumes for TADA! Youth Theater, an amazing children’s theatre program in the city. Years later, my mother was working on “Spider-Man” and they suddenly needed another dresser, and very quickly I was suggested and brought in the next day. And I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s seriously one of the best jobs.

What’s the Most Difficult Part of Dressing?

Hmm, I mean, quick changes can be difficult, but once you do it for a little while, it becomes like clockwork. One of the most difficult positions, though, is a swing dresser. As you know, Broadway shows have swing actors — actors who know every role in the show and can replace anyone at a moment’s notice. Well, dressers have the same position. Every dresser has a “track,” which is where they go and when, whom they dress, where and when they have to move to get out of the way of a set change, etc. And a swing dresser has to know everyone’s tracks and to be able to fill in as needed. I enjoyed being a swing dresser, as it kept me on my toes and allows you to see how the whole machine of a show really works from many different perspectives.

What Is the Fastest Change You’ve Had to Do?

I have done many changes that are quite fast or crazy (giant egg costumes, anyone?) One of my most involved quick-change was during “Spider-Man.” I had less than 30 seconds to get an actor out of about seven pieces of clothing, including a full head mask, and into six different pieces! But I’ve seen or heard about some pretty crazy quick-changes. In fact, my friend Fran Curry, one of the best dressers in the biz, had a great video taken of her doing one of Kelli O’Hara’s complicated quick-changes during “The King and I.”

What Are the Items You Always Have to Have on You?

lacie-bonanni
Broadway dresser Lacie Bonanni

I always make sure I’m wearing an apron with multiple pockets. I make sure I have an array of safety pins and a little pair of scissors. And, you always want to have a light. I use a headlamp that looks like I’m going mining for coal. Some people use what’s called a “bite light,” a little light you put in your mouth and bite down on to give you some light backstage. Also water, Tylenol and some kind of chocolate for those two-show days.

Have You Ever Been a Dresser for a Celebrity?

I have, actually. I was very fortunate to be Sienna Miller’s dresser during her stint in “Cabaret.” She was the nicest, most wonderful person! I loved her. People also ask me what the major difference is being a star dresser versus an ensemble dresser. I think the major difference is you become somewhat like an assistant, at least when they’re in the theatre. Making sure they have tea, helping with fan mail, organizing backstage visits, etc. It was a great experience.

What’s the Biggest Mishap That’s Happened to You During a Show?

Nothing too severe, thankfully. During “Something Rotten!” one of the ensemble girls’ opening costume split down the back, and we had to do a very fast repair so she could wear it again later in the show. There’s also a point in the show where a bunch of men’s coats are placed along the back wall and every ensemble guy runs upstage and grabs their coat. Well, sometimes if there is an understudy or swing on, the coats don’t always get put in the right places, and we’ve had some actors grab a jacket that’s either way too big or way too small, but it’s too late and they’ve got to go on with the number.

How Do I Get Into the Dressing Business?

There’s no one way to get into wardrobe work. If you are still in school, volunteer in your school’s costume shop or at a local theatre. Touring shows also often hire local dressers for each stop, so you should inquire at your closest theatre that hosts national tours. If you’re in the city and hoping to be a dresser, try getting as many credits as you can, wherever you can. Try Off-Broadway, children’s theatres, etc., and meeting as many people in the business as you can. Connections are always helpful for any job, really. Apply to be a day worker, too. Besides the ironing and steaming and such, there are stitchers who repair all the costumes during the day, shoppers who buy fabric and material for repairs or new costumes and a laundry person who takes care of all the laundry for the show, which, believe me, is no easy task. And then, just start dropping your resumes off at all the theatres in the city.

3 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. I understand a lot of dressers get in as family members; alas : Why is there no mention of the Wardrobe Union in this article? I too have bee. A Broadway dresser, and you MUST register and hopefully join the union to do it.

  2. Having been a Broadway dresser myself, I loved reading this. I, too, did costumes in college and when I went to NYC, worked my way into the union. It can be done, but it takes tenacity and sometimes taking the odd job no one else wants. I was fortunate enough to work Same Time Next Year, Annie, A Chorus Line, and several others. I did it for 10 years and still reap the benefits of my stint, maintaining friendships with several performers and backstage workers. It was a wonderful life!

    • Hi Heather! How did you work your way into the union? I’ve been dressing at my local theater here in the south for 2 years, but now my husband is being transferred to NYC for his job. My local union says it’s impossible to get work in NYC as a dresser. I know you don’t just walk in and get all the jobs but there has to be a way. Do you have any advice on where to start?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *