Despite the best efforts of wardrobe workers backstage, mishaps are inevitable.
“We just know it’s live theater. There’s no second take. We do the best we can to make sure glitches don’t happen, but we can’t control everything,” said wardrobe worker Claude Wayne Cossin, who as business agent from 2001 until May for Columbus’ theatrical wardrobe unionhas been involved with setting up teams for more than 300 national tours and local productions.
Here are stories by Columbus wardrobe workers of how they responded when things have gone wrong backstage during Broadway in Columbus tours and local productions:
Rigging the costumes: 'Pretty Woman'
During the March-April run of “Pretty Woman, the Musical,” dresser Kerry Taylor had to adjust a newly arrived set of shirts for a group of replacement actors.
The shirts arrived without snaps, customarily hidden behind the buttons to allow performers to safely rip them off backstage.
“I had to take apart the shirts and put them back together with snaps. They call that rigging clothes,” Taylor said.
“The buttons on top make them look like regular shirts. Nobody in the audience should know these are breakaway costumes that can be removed and put back on quickly,” Taylor said.
Patching the tire: 'Cats'
Some key elements of touring shows require major repairs.
Midway through the “Cats” tour here in January, Susan O’Dell and Taylor were asked to mend two leaks in the inflatable tire that rises at the end to take (spoiler alert!) aging glamour-puss Grizabella to heaven.
“It took four stage crew to haul the giant tire offstage to our industrial sewing machine. This wasn’t an ordinary repair, so we had to be strategic and efficient,” O’Dell said.
“The ‘Cats’ crew moved it around while we patched it,” said Taylor, who also dressed Grizabella during the run.
“Miraculously,” O’Dell said, “we completed the repair without breaking a needle!”
Fixing the zipper: BalletMet’s 'Alice in Wonderland'
Backstage during BalletMet Columbus’ 2020 production of “Alice in Wonderland,” Taylor noticed a bad zipper on the Queen of Hearts costume.
“When you’re a stitcher, you’re waiting for emergencies,” Taylor said.
The costume had just come out of the dryer. Routinely checking it, Taylor could see the stitching was coming out from a rip in one of the top zipper teeth.
“We had 10 minutes to pull a zipper out and replace it before the principal dancer playing the Queen had to go onstage,” she said.
The two stitchers (with Leigh Buckingham) fixed it just in time.
“If she’d put on that unaltered costume, she might have messed up onstage, exposing her. But a lot of times, we fix things and the actors never know it,” Taylor said.
Stacking the clothes: 'Les Miserables'
One of the most costume-heavy shows is “Les Miserables,” which last toured the Ohio Theatre in 2019.
“The stacking of the clothes on chairs backstage would get so high we’d have to watch to make sure it didn’t topple,” Taylor said.
Getting the hat: 'Peter Pan'
A misplaced hat almost delayed Captain Hook’s entrance in Cathy Rigby’s 2005 tour of “Peter Pan” at the Palace Theatre.
O’Dell, dresser for the actor playing both Mr. Darling and Hook, didn’t realize the hat was missing until the actor began to remove his Darling costume for his pirate finery.
“I realized I’d left Hook’s enormous hat in his upstairs dressing room,” O’Dell said.
She ran up three flights of stairs to get it and ran back down while the actor finished dressing.
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“When you realize somebody needs something, you have to move really fast.... He only had a few minutes, but he knew I’d get him ready in time because this wasn’t our first show together,” O’Dell said.
After 60 seconds of “extreme stress,” the actor returned onstage just in time as the evil pirate, she said.
“I was freaked out,” O’Dell said, “but I knew I was never going to make that mistake again.”
Overcoming an injury: 'The Lion King'
The only time veteran dresser Ann Lodder was injured during a show was her first stint backstage in 2004 for “The Lion King.”
Assigned to assist the actor playing villainous Scar, Lodder was handing a tree-branch-style walking stick up to him on the set’s second story when it fell.
“I thought he had it... The stick came down and hit me right in the upper lip,” she said.
Lodder handed it to him again, so Scar could make his entrance to gleefully observe the wildebeest stampede from a mountain ledge.
“The stick hit hard enough to bloody my gums and for me to say ‘ouch!' The traveling team wondered if I could finish the show,” she said.
Bloodied but unbowed, Lodder took a moment to rinse off the blood, filled out a required incident report and continued working.
“I didn’t leave,” she said, "because I know how hard it is to lose a dresser mid-show.”
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Behind-the-scenes theater workers tell tales of wardrobe woes