To my former professors,
It’s been a few years since I graduated, but tonight as I was, depressingly enough,
filling out my tax worksheets, tallying income and itemizing deductions, I realized
I have finally made it in the theatre industry. And I thought I’d take a moment to
update some of the people who got me here.
I am currently living in Queens, New York, and nearly every day I commute in to the
Theatre District to work as a stitcher and swing dresser on Broadway. I got my card
with the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Wardrobe Local
764 after being hired on at Mary Poppins to help build a part of their first national
When that build was over, I spent a year working as a first hand for Paper Mill Playhouse,
a well-regarded regional theater whose costume shop operated out of Chelsea. After
that I bounced between commercial costume shops, moonlighting as a swing dresser at
Avenue Q off-Broadway, until their fulltime wardrobe supervisor quit and I stepped
in as wardrobe supervisor and puppet wrangler.
While working at Avenue Q, I started doing daywork at Rock of Ages, and eventually
began stitching there. I also learned to swing in on all three of the dresser tracks
on that show. I’m currently stitching at Nice Work if You Can Get It, and I’ve learned
several of the dressing tracks there as well. Occasionally I get called in to do a
day or two of tailoring for film and television, and I recently got to be the on-site
tailor for one of the finale numbers for the TV show "Smash."
I feel that what got me to where I currently am, not just paying bills but prospering
in a theatre career, has so much to do with where I came from, namely, the University
of Memphis Department of Theatre and Dance.
I learned how to sew in college. In my field, that actually makes me a bit of a late
bloomer. Many of the ladies and gentlemen I work with have been sewing since they
were children. But for me, I learned in the University costume shop the first semester
of my freshman year, when I still thought I was going to be an acting major.
It wasn’t until I discovered I had just the barest bit of a knack for sewing (and
Mike O’Nele singled me out for my drawing ability in Intro to Theatre Production)
that I considered changing my focus to Costume Design. By the time junior year rolled
around, I was altering off-the-shelf Simplicity patterns to look like just what the
designer wanted them to, and I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
That kind of cocky assuredness can be a crutch, though, out in the real world. So
the good news is that I learned something else in my time at Memphis. I learned that
there’s always something else to learn.
I put off doing my internship until after my first senior year. I was nervous... anxious
that I might be rejected from the ‘good’ companies, worried that I might go somewhere
without any of my friends. I wound up at Glimmerglass Opera as a wardrobe intern,
against the advice of my advisor, who wanted me to pursue design.
Glimmerglass was one of the best experiences of my career. In fact, after interning,
I went back for two more summers as the assistant wardrobe supervisor. I met people
there who I still count as colleagues here in New York, and I learned so much more
about theatre than I had in school. But I know that if the department hadn’t required me
to go, I would have been too hesitant, and a whole world may have been closed to me.
At Glimmerglass I learned new ways to build and rig clothes, new ways to preset a
quick-change, and how to handle myself professionally among my peers. And I learned
how much more there was to learn.
That’s the crucial thing I think my BFA taught me: how to go in to a new situation
and say confidently, “I don’t know how to do that. But I can learn.” That approach
saved my butt more times that I can count when I first moved to the city and was taking
jobs anywhere I could, usually for a week or two weeks at a time, stitching at Julliard or
dressing at an off-off-off-Broadway venue.
And that’s what I learned in school, walking into Costume Lab for the first time,
not knowing how to sew, and having Kim Yeager take me by the hand and say “Of course
you don’t know how to do that ... yet. But watch this.” The longer I do this job,
the more I work, the less I have to say, “I don’t know how to do that.” But I get
to say something else sometimes that is even more wonderful. I get to say, “I know
one way to do it. But what would you do?”
If there’s one thing the BFA program drilled into our heads, it is that theatre is
a collaborative art form. I always assumed, with my design concentration, that they
meant just the collaboration between designers and directors and actors. Now I know
that the collaborations we are part of are everywhere.
I love that two heads are better than one, and when approaching a tailoring or patterning
problem I can look to my supervisor or another stitcher and say, “What do you think
of...” and come up with a result that’s perfect, that we can both add to our repertoires.
That’s the kind of give and take conversation that is the spirit of true collaboration,
the kind that you professors and mentors always talked about.
To keep it brief (too late): I wanted to thank you all for your part in the program
there at the U of M, and to remind you that more than a few of your students are out
here in the business learning, collaborating, and thanking their lucky stars that
they ended up where they are.
Raven Jakubowski (BFA ’04)