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10 Tips For A Perfect Quick Change

Part of the magic of putting on a big Broadway-style musical are the performers coming offstage and onstage at lightning speed with a change in costume. However, accomplishing a costume quick change is no easy task. Here are some tips so you can pull off one just like the Broadway pros do:

1. Quick-Rig All Costume Pieces

In this video, Dan Klarer shows us how a great quick-rig is done! “Quick-rig” is wardrobe speak for using velcro and snaps for any clothing that can’t come off with a quick tug. Change out all buttons, zippers and any closures in your costumes for these handy inventions to accomplish a quick change in record time.

You can also check out this handy guide from Psycho Seamstress that walks you through the steps of exchanging buttons for snaps.

How to Costume Rig a Button Down Garment for Quick Change

https://psychoseamstress.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/cropped-photo-oct-30-1-07-10-pm.jpg

2. Elasticize All Shoes That Don’t Slip On and Off

Shoes can be some of the most difficult things to deal with during a quick change. When time is of the essence, you certainly don’t want to deal with knotted laces you can’t untie or straps that are hard to unbuckle in the dark. Elastic is a great cost-effective solution to solve these shoe issues. Replace any and all shoelaces with elastic, have them pre-tied in advance of the change and then you’re good to go.

The same goes for shoes with straps that have buckles. Replace those straps with elastic and get rid of the buckles altogether. If you’re worried about shoes coming off during dance numbers, use two pieces of elastic to create a crisscross shape on each individual shoe. Not only will each shoe remain snug for all the choreography, but they will come off with a gentle tug from the actor during the change.

3. Overdress and Underdress Costumes

This footage from the previous Broadway production of “Cinderella,” with glorious costumes by William Ivey Long, is a perfect example of both underdressing and overdressing costumes to create stage magic. While this may not work for every show you mount, it can make for a very quick change. It’s as easy as layering your clothing. This is really helpful for actors who may have to do a change without a helper. Even better, like the “CInderella” transformation seen here, this idea works when a change has to be done onstage and can’t be hidden from the audience.

Did you see how the “magic” worked in this change? If you blinked, you may have missed it! When Cinderella runs around in excitement about her dress changing, she quickly visits the side of the stage, where a dresser helps her to overdress the large skirt she needs for the final piece of her white ball gown.

4. Get Help from Others

This Tony Awards video of the Broadway company of “The King and I” certainly demonstrates the power of teamwork and timing in a quick change. You can take a lot from this video to help with your own quick-change adventures.

First, don’t be afraid to ask for help! It can sometimes take two or three people, depending on how many pieces of clothing the costume requires. Second, make sure each helper has a specific duty or piece of costume for which he or she is responsible during the change. Last, make sure you work together to figure out the best way to take everything on and off the actor in the most efficient way possible, just like these fabulous Broadway dressers do.

5. Create a Quick-Change Booth

This fun video from Center Theatre Group and the touring company of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” create a space specifically dedicated to John Rapson’s quick change on the side of the stage. Being that many of his changes were so fast, it helps to save time so that he doesn’t have to go up to the dressing room every time a new costume is required.

To create your own quick-change booth, wall off an area with curtains, a few costume racks or behind a large set piece (just make sure it’s not one of the ones needed in any of the scenes coming up while you’re doing the change). Use clip lights to light the area, and place a rug or drop cloth (wardrobe speak for a piece of fabric) on the floor to protect actors’ costumes and feet from a dirty area and/or unwanted objects. Make sure the booth contains any items needed by hair, makeup and costumes for any changes that will be happening in it throughout the show.

6. Practice

As Mary Poppins would probably say, something “practically perfect” takes practice. And it’s very obvious in this video from the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway company of “Mary Poppins” that they have practiced this change to the point of perfection. Follow their lead and make sure you also practice your quick changes.

While practicing, make sure you rehearse the change in the space you’ll be using during the show and use similar lighting. You need to know before the performance whether you can actually see the clothing before you try the change. In addition, use a stopwatch and see how long it takes to accomplish this change so you can make sure the quick change will happen in the time allotted during the actual performance.

7. Use a Bite Lite

Not only are these dressers on the crew of “Beautiful” on Broadway doing brilliant quick changes, but they also have one thing in common: They all use a bite lite to accomplish their changes.

A bite lite is wardrobe speak for a very small flashlight you put in your mouth and hold with your teeth. Once bitten, it will light up, and your hands will be free for a quick change. It’s an essential tool for any backstage artist, especially where quick changes are concerned.

Even in the best light backstage, it can be hard to see zippers and small closures that blend in with fabrics. Using a bite lite ensures there will be no issues in locating them. So, make sure to always have one on hand. If you don’t have a pocket to store it in, tie it on a piece of ribbon or string around your neck.

If you are uncomfortable using a bite lite, pick up a headlamp from your nearest hardware store. Not only are they inexpensive, but they can be easily placed around your head. All you do is just switch it on for when the change happens and turn it off when you’re done.

8. Write Out How Your Quick Change Is Done

Lady Gaga and her dresser crew have this quick change down pat! However, what if something happened to one of the dressers in this video? What would they do? How do they keep making sure it’s carried out perfectly every time, no matter who the dresser is?

Well, of course, practice, but more importantly, they also make sure every step is written out so that no matter who is working the change, he or she will know exactly what to do.

This is imperative in case you have to switch out anyone helping with the show throughout the run. Remember that with every person doing a separate item on the change, things become complicated and people can forget everyone’s duties. Writing them down can be a saving grace should a last-minute replacement be needed. It also ensures your quick change will continue to run like clockwork and put the person subbing in at ease.

9. Communicate With Your Actor

Communication is key in a quick change — not just with the dressing team, but with the actor being dressed. It’s imperative to talk in advance about your game plan for the change and what the actor should know and do while the change occurs. Consequently, being open about how the quick change will go helps put the actor at ease during what can potentially be a very stressful time.

10. Don’t Let Others Interfere

This group at El Dorado Musical Theatre has the group quick change idea down to a science. Not only does each team do its specific job of changing a specific character, but none of the actors or team members interfere with the one they are not preset to be involved with.

Making sure unwanted hands or distractions stay out of quick changes is imperative. One false move or lost second can make the change go very wrong if the actor doesn’t make it onstage on time in the correct costume.

Though quick changes can take some time and some practice to nail down, the end result never ceases to stun and impress the audience.

Ever tried a quick change? What are the best tips you can offer? Let us know in the comments below…

Written by Kimberly Faye Greenberg

Kimberly Faye Greenberg is the first and only actress to play Leading roles in 2 OFF-BROADWAY musicals at the same time. In addition, Kimberly's numerous portrayals of a FANNY BRICE have been critically acclaimed by the NY Times, Huffington Post and Associated Press and currently her solo show Fabulous Fanny Brice is touring the country. Kimberly has worked backstage as a Broadway wardrobe swing dresser on over 20 Broadway shows. As a Performing Arts Consultant Kimberly loves to inspire, educate and work with proactive Artists.

23 Comments

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  1. On the discussion of quick changes, does anyone know how the quick change in Legally Blonde works? Not Elle’s but the ensemble member in Omigod You Guys when she says ‘wait for me!’ And slides down a pole and is done? It’s on the MTV version on YouTube and am really on curious on how it happens? Is it just a different actor or something? If anyone has any ideas let me know! It’s killing me!

    • In my school’s production, the juniorized version, we obviously didn’t have a pole or the same costume changes. Elle had two dresses on, the one that you see at the beginning and the one for the end of the number. The dress on top was a tear away dress, with magnets at the shoulders and back. All of the Delta Nu’s crowded around her and I was responsible for tearing it away and throwing it offstage. I’m sure that’s not how they did it in the actual production but it worked pretty well for us.

  2. We actually had 6-7 people working on our Tin Man to farmhand change in the Wizard of Oz. I was the only one who new how all the straps worked on the costume! We usually made the change with time to spare. It was a nutty production for us, but it was so much fun.

  3. I have done many quick changes before. One thing for a dresser and an actor to keep in mind is to stay calm and confident. If either one gets frantic or hesitant, it will throw the entire quick change off. Some more advice is to have the actor start taking their previous costume off as soon as they get offstage.

  4. Thank you Kimberly Greenberg! I will be directing Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” this Fall, The show has 34 characters played by 3 actors so quick changes are going to be the norm. I wish I could figure out how to save this article so I could find it again so I could send a copy to my costumer and dressers when we begin rehearsals.

  5. ahah. so that’s how a quick change actually works? in the old theatre group i was in. (it was VERY amature by the way) a quick change persisted of going back stage, sprinting to the dressing room. and getting changed so fast you probably have something on the wrong way round. 9/10 times i had to do a quick change i was late onstage. it was horrid.

  6. I lay the clothes in a pile in the exact order they will be put on with shoes accessories laid beside it. After the number, lay them away exactly the same for the next show! Be bossy but nice with performers! Everyone loves the wardrobe wifie!

  7. I had my first quick change in my last show(Cut me a break I was and still am 11)! I was in Bye Bye Birdie and had to change from Freddie to a cop. I had to take converse of and my jacket off. Then I had dress shoes, a cop jacket, and a hat. I had to do this 4 times!

  8. My first show ever was beauty and the beast jr. I was cast as the bookseller, a wolf, and a servant. I had full changes of half changes every other scene and I had SpFx make up for the wolf. I am so glad that there was a bathroom right next to the stage left wing because it became my quickchange area. My fastest change was 30seconds going from wolf to bookseller (a full body change)

  9. My first quick change is coming up for a school production and I’m sure this article will help a lot. We were a hot mess during rehearsal today and my shirt was on backwards the entire scen because we couldn’t find the light switch, and then we got locked out of the room where we change and had to go ask my drama teacher for her keys (she was in the tech booth).

  10. I had a quick change from a ball gown to a ‘day dress’ during a scene change, I walked offstage where someone unzipped me while I pulled off my long gloves right before I popped into the quick change area (which was about 6 feet away from the stage exit). Then in the area I dropped the dress, pulled on the elastic skirt and the top with Velcro down the front (it had buttons for show but was actually Velcro) then was back out ready to be onstage when the lights came up. Except for the unzipper person I could do it myself, and while the first couple times I basically walked from the quick change right onto the stage, I got so quick I was beating the people who were pulling the sets onstage and got to stand around for a couple seconds to catch my breath. God bless our fantastic costume designer who put the Velcro in for me.

  11. I played the Ms. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. I had exactly two minutes to change from Ms. Gulch to the Wicked Witch and be in place for my reveal in Munchkinland. Including my Green makeup. There was no place backstage for a quick change due to the set up of our theatre. Which meant I was down a flight of stairs, transforming, and up a flight of stairs. Plus dealing with people who wouldn’t be paying attention when I came “flying” through.

    Two people did my costume change. One would get my old top half off and new on. Then she would work on my bottom half while our makeup director applied my green. We used my natural hair sprayed grey for Ms. Gulch. And my wig pinned to my hat for the witch. While they did this I would put on my gloves and the last thing would be taping my gloves in place under my shirt and securing my cape.

    The team was amazing and I never missed my cue, though I did come running in a few times.

  12. Once during a performance, i was suppose to change from a huge frilly ball gown into a day-dress in 2 minutes. The day-dress was under my gown and when I was unzipping the gown, it got caught on the day-dress!! I was like a minute late for my cue! The actors onstage were able to improvise but I was so embarrassed! Every time I do a costume change I make sure nothing like that happens again!

  13. Hello Kimberly!
    I write a column for the Sun Newspaper in Seal Beach, called “Aunt Gertie on Life.” I’m also a new and emerging playwright and have been in the entertainment industry since my twenties. I’d like to audition for America’s got Talent with one of my original tunes. I need to rig up one of my Aunt Gertie day dresses and hide my other character, Ruby Red-Eye underneath. You can see Aunt Gertie on my Facebook page and Ruby too in the photo album section. Go to Karen Hadley and send a message. Any help and pointers would be most appreciated! Thank you!

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