August 7, 2016
Its been an aeon since I last wrote a blog post and loads has happened in that time. I get asked a lot about what type of work I do and how the whole set up works. So I thought I’d write a (lengthy) blog post about it because It’s fairly interesting. Plus, as well, you don’t plan for a job like this, you can’t do a course at university on it. It’s just something that I fell into through a series of happy circumstances, luck and being in the right pace at the right time. Is that serendipity ?
I had been working in my studio, making stock, booking in sales and making plans. At the same time I was working freelance for a production company here in Northampton. Altering and making costumes for cruise ships going working in their wardrobe department when they were busy.
The cast (singers and dancers) are auditioned from far and wide. Lots of the dancers are from Russia or the Ukraine and the singers are from all over. Many have worked for the company before. Auditions are held in London, Moscow, new York or by Skype. All the rehearsals take place in Northampton and last about 2 months and at that time the cast live together in a big house. All the fittings for costumes take place in this time too. Typically there’s 3 dance couples and 2 male and 2 female singers although this depends on the ship. Each show has a number of costume changes, anything from 3 up to 7 or 8 depending on the show. And there could be up to 5 shows , depending on the length of the cruise and again the size of the ship. All in all, it adds up to a lot of costumes hundreds and hundreds plus shoes. Every costume has to be fitted onto the person and altered in such a way that it can be let out or in again for the next person. This all adds up to some tricky skillful alterations. Sometimes the costumes need re making. In which case we make a pattern from the old costume and try to find matching trims and fabrics. All of the costumes are either flown or freighted over to the ship. Sometimes, we have to take extra cases of costumes with us. It’s a huge logistical operation.
Then I fly out with a small wardrobe team to wherever the ship is. It could be in The Med but the ones Ive done this year have been in America or the far East. This normally entails a long haul flight a transfer flight to the ship, lots of airline food, an overnight in a hotel and an early morning pick up.
We embark the ship, this normally takes a long time because we are service staff, not crew and not passengers. Very often we don’t appear on any list so there’s hours of waiting around. When we arrive on the ship we go backstage and unpack and hang the costumes get our bearings, sort shoes. It’s always a strange and long first day. Often we’re feeling wired from a long flight and jet-lagged. The ship’s often empty when we embark and we’re familiar with the layout so can just nip and get a cup of tea (I take Yorkshire tea bags with me now) and set to work . Some hours later when we’ve finished, the ship is teeming with wandering passengers who are all discovering things for the first time and are very excited and also very lost. We go to the front desk to discover which cabins we’ve been allocated. Allocation of cabins is a bit of a lottery really and depends on how many passengers have booked onto the cruise. Sometimes, we get passenger cabins and other times it’s crew cabins and we also move about from cabin to cabin too. Nevertheless, It’s always a relief to get in any cabin after the first days work, unpack, watch some tv (because there’s no satellite the programmes and films are shown on a loop) and pray that sleep will come quickly. Inevitably you wake in the morning not knowing were the hell you are.
The next day the fun begins…
We have a show schedule of shows which will be on the cruise. Some of the shows will not have been fitted and usually dancers costumes won’t have all been fitted either. Dancers are easier to fit because they all tend to be a similar size. I have a bursting pride for our dancers who are incredibly disciplined, seriously fit and nearly always cheery and happy. Its hard to leave home and travel to a different country when you’re so young, they miss home and
for some of them It’s their first contract and they worry about being sea-sick . I make sure I take plenty of sweets with me to share around. It’s a good ice-breaker it’s good to have a chat and relax backstage. I’ve learnt to say “Bullshit” in Russian. Helpful .
Our tasks are different for each day. We liaise with the choreographer to organize when fittings can take place . We also mend the accessories and head gear, label stuff, clean and have to go shopping for stuff which could be missing from a show or costumes. The first time I ever went on a ship I had to get off in a very snowy Copenhagen with no idea where I was going and buy 2 pairs of white plastic clip on earrings, fishnet tights , hairpins and handcream. Some days we have rehearsal and dress rehearsals which is another opportunity to see outfits on stage. Lots of hems need to be re-altered because the sight line has changed.
After the dress rehearsal we usually have “notes” a list of all the things which need fixing before the show.
Although by the night of the show we may have sat through it about 3 times it always feels different with an audience. The shows are always the thing that passengers really look forward to on a ship. The atmosphere has a real buzz and we always get a great reception. We have 2 shows a night and have been known to have wardrobe malfunctions between shows which need fixing. Dancers put their heels through dress hems, zips on flyholes bust, poppers come undone. Luckily this isn’t a regular occurrence.
I work for 2 or 3 weeks at a stretch so there’s no Friday feeling and no weekend. Eventually, there’s a point when the days begin to blend . In the lifts they have a carpet with the days of the week on. Eventually you only know what day it is by checking in the lift. When the ship docks the passengers go on day trips and the ship’s silent save for a few doing a jig saw. Sea days are long and we sometimes get bewildered lost passengers wandering backstage. Only if the weather is really rough is the show cancelled and this does happen, the dancers won’t perform lifts and the show will be re-blocked. I so sometimes wonder what passengers expectations are because I hear them complaining that the ships moving too much! It’s something they don’t mention in the adverts. We do still go to work if we feel sick but usually tablets work ok. The ship has stabilizers and its nice to be rocked to sleep.
If we can’t manage to complete all the fittings before we’re flown home we do a costume parade. This is where everyone puts on each outfit their wearing for the remaining shows and we check them. Its like a quickie version of miss world. We work on the notes for these costumes in the remaining days.
Apart from the wonderful team of people I work with, the luxury confines of the ships and the wage. I get to visit some beautiful places in the world. I’d never in a lifetime get to see these places so my job is on the whole a privilege. It’s surreal sometimes and I have moments where I miss my family a lot. But they get lots of foreign sweets with rude names..
Woman sewing cambodia.