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.
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.
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.