Today’s post is part of our new Townies Takeover series! In this series we tap other Townies to share their personal experiences living, working, playing in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, through their own words and snapshots.
My life in Winston Salem began when I was 5 years old. We moved here the summer before I began Kindergarten so my Mom could begin her new job as Dean of Dance at UNC School of the Arts. Both Mom and Dad are alums of the school, too. They met and fell in love while in High School there, so it was a homecoming for them.
Growing up in Winston I was very involved in all of the arts education programs from ballet at the UNCSA Preparatory Dance Program, to art classes at Sawtooth, Violin and Voice at the Community Music School and many productions with the Little Theater (Twin City Stage). The arts community was the pillar of my life from the day I was born, and I didn’t realize what a rare and special a thing that was until I left home.
I moved to New York City in 2001 to study Musical Theater, but while in college I unexpectedly fell in love with another aspect of theater – Costumes. It was like love at first sight – or a light bulb went off – and I all of a sudden found the aspect of theater that clicked perfectly with me. With costuming I was able to feel connected with every production in a way I hadn’t felt as a performer. My work was tangible and its success did not hinge on the opinions of the audience. That really appealed to me. I was challenged by the skill of sewing and creating the garments but I also loved working Wardrobe and as a Dresser. I still got to be at the theater every night feeling the emotions and the collective energy of the performance. I loved the thrill of having a “quick change” when a performer came running at me in the wings and they had to have total trust in my ability to completely change their character in 30 seconds flat. I worked all over New York on many different productions but my career really advanced when I began working with The Metropolitan Opera and American Ballet Theater in 2010.
The first Opera I was assigned at the Met was a huge Russian drama, Boris Gudinov. There were actually hundreds of people on stage at a time. The principal characters rode onto stage on regal horses. I had never seen anything like it and I was hooked. When you work at the Met, for the Opera and Ballet, you basically work non-stop for 10 months straight – so if you don’t love it, you get burnt out pretty quickly. As a full time Wardrobe employee we often had a laundry and maintenance call in the morning, a lunch break, then there would be a dress rehearsal for one opera, a dinner break, then a different opera would perform that night. Keep in mind some operas are four to five hours long. That place never sleeps. People are literally working 24/7. It’s amazing. They do around 24-28 different operas in one season and you really have to “show up” for each one. Everyone you work with is at the top of their game and bringing it all to the stage every night for 3,500 people who are paying a lot of money to see something spectacular. It was really cool to be a part of something that big. I never took one moment there for granted and I became friends with some of the most talented and passionate people in the world.
Then my whole world changed when I became a Mother to my first daughter.
Although I loved working at the Met, the pace of the production schedule was impossible for me to keep as a Mom. And for all its splendor, New York City is not the most family-friendly place to live. I began to think a lot about the wonderful city I had grown up in. I found myself daydreaming of walking through Reynolda Gardens, going to a Wake game and hiking Pilot Mountain. I realized that the kind of life I wanted to live with my family was not the “make it or break it” world of the city.
After some negotiating I convinced my Yankee husband to take a leap of faith with me. When I started looking for work that would take us to southward, the stars aligned to present the perfect jobs for both my husband and I. I moved back to Winston exactly 13 years after I had left for college to work at the same school my parents had moved our family to Winston for. A homecoming.
For the past two years I have happily been the Wardrobe Supervisor for the School of Dance Costume Shop.
A lot of people don’t realize that the School of Dance has its own professional costume shop and assume we are a part of the Design and Production School. But the two have been separate for most of the school’s history. We are totally committed to creating costumes for all of the dance productions. The three of us can construct and fit up to 200 costumes in one school year- in addition to the 200 Nutcracker costumes we will fit and alter. I also coordinate the many rentals we provide to professional schools and companies around the country – and oversee the use of costumes for student productions. I design and sew; I paint shoes and make headpieces. I run wardrobe and dress the dancers during productions which also means I do a lot of laundry!
It is really the perfect place for me because it combines my knowledge of technical theater and costuming with my knowledge of dance and dance history. The school feels like a second home to me. I know its hallways and studios like the back of my hand. I know what a special place it is and I feel a responsibility to do its history proud. Of all the things I like about my job I think the most important role I play is as a supporter of the students.
My job is to make them feel safe, beautiful and confident to step out on the stage and make that magic happen. I am constantly inspired by them. These people work so hard. Harder than you could ever imagine. I have never before felt the kind of pride I feel when watching a performance from the wings and one of these kids has the night of their life on stage. I cry all the time. I cried in a rehearsal just last week. I told the dancers “This is important. This is going to inspire someone to want to dance. This is what we do! This is art.”