The Art (and Entertainment) of the Quick Change
I am currently Assistant Stage Managing the Arden’s Production of A Moon for the Misbegotten. I have done a little bit of stage managing in the past and have been at least mildly experienced at most of the duties. However, one day during tech week it came time for the “quick-change.”
The leading (and only) lady in the show Josie (played by Grace Gonglewski) has a transition in Act I where the time of day changes from day to night and time has to have elapsed. The transition needs to show her father Phil Hogan (Michael H. Walls) and their landlord Jim Tyrone (Eric Hissom) going to the bar at the inn and Josie setting the scene for a moonlight date with Jim. The transition has 4 sections.
First, the men exit stage and Josie takes down the laundry line, the clothes on it, and moves the table from the porch onto the front lawn.
Next, the men return to stage and exit en route to the inn while Josie brings the struck items into the house and takes off the working dress leaving her in just her slip while the Assistant Stage Manager (that’s me) strikes the dress and turns on the lantern.
She returns to stage with flowers for the table and goes to the well to wash.
Finally, she returns to the house and with the help of her Assistant Stage Manager (that’s me again) dives into her evening dress, gets zipped, velcroed and snapped, peeks out the window, puts on stockings and shoes and exits the house with lantern in hand to start the next scene.
The kicker is that anything we do inside the house (ie. the quick-change itself) occurs while there is NO action on stage. So, it is crucial that do the change as quickly as possible.
We experimented with a lot of approaches to the change and I became more and more adept at helping Grace. Eventually, with a collaboration between myself, Grace and Alison Roberts (costume designer) we found a method that works for all of us and can be done in the allotted time.
My history is as a director and I never thought so much about quick-changes as I have in the past week. So, in the spirit of connecting with the theater as a whole, I did a little research into quick-change as it exists in the theater today:
First, I wondered how long a quick-change generally takes. I quickly found a recent example from the popular musical Wicked:
In an interview with Wicked Wardrobe Supervisor Gillian Kadish on SHNSF.com, she says that “the fastest change we have in the show is when Elphaba goes from her Shiz costume into the Defying Gravity dress, which is 19 seconds.”
Wow, 19 seconds! Perhaps I am not yet in the elite company of quick-change professionals. I wanted to see if this was particularly quick or if other shows were different. I had to venture no further than another staple of the musical theater realm; Hairspray.
Megan Bowers (Tracy Turnblatt’s dresser) in an article on Playbill.com explains the quick change for both Tracy and Edna (her mother) in the opening number: For Edna, the process takes about 45 seconds. Tracy’s change is quicker than Edna’s, taking only 25 to 30 seconds(she doesn’t have to change her wig like Edna does).
Alright, so generally a change takes under a minute and there seems to be a very clear craft and technique. Now, I wanted to hear about the “funny” mishaps as I (knock on wood) pray will not happen with us. I read a variety on Broadwayspace.com called “Crazy Costume Stories” that involve cutting people out of $30,000 dresses, returning to stage half-dressed, and wearing boots instead of crystal-covered heels for a kick-line. Give them a read yourself for some entertainment!
After examining a bit of the professional world of quick-change I feel very much at ease that the skill is learned and practiced and that it is maybe essential to earning one’s stripes to partake of the quick-change.