I am currently working on my very first out of state show…in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. Now I had never spent any substantial time on the east coast, much less ever visited as far north as Maine. But the opportunity presented itself, and I am adventurous. So I have been working as set and costume designer for Foxcroft Academy’s spring musical “The Apple Tree”. I have been here for nearly two months now, and it has been quite an experience and I have learned some very valuable lessons while here.
Snow. S.N.O.W. Snow is not something I usually think about, or something that really crosses my mind ever, living in Redlands, California for the last few years. Or even when I was living in Salinas. But now, snow is something I have to think about. You can’t spray paint/toxic chemicals inside, right? Right. So what do you do? You do it in a spray booth if you have that as a resource, or you simply do it outside, right? Well… when it is snowing outside, this becomes a real problem. You can try doing a quick spray and dashing inside before your paint starts dripping, that is if you are lucky enough to get paint on it at all. I was trying to febreeze some costumes outside to freshen them up and the febreeze was freezing before it even hit the clothing! So I have learned to pay close attention to the weather channel and take advantage of the rare, warm 35 ℉ days. I also had originally wanted to paint the stage floor a nice semi-gloss white, so the lighting designer could do some neat things with our (way cool) LED lights…until I was informed that this is mud season. “So what?” I say. “Michaela…it is MUD season.” “Oh….got it”. There is no way that my super cool white floor would stay white more than a couple seconds before it would turn a nasty, murky brown from everyone’s grubby mud boots. Pay attention to what is happening outside the theatre. Lesson learned.
Lesson #2 Embrace the resources you have
I am fully aware that I was spoiled as a costume designer living so close to Los Angeles. I had the mecca that is the garment district at my fingertips. I could easily spend an afternoon in LA, and return with all the fabric and notions I could possibly want or need. Even more, I lived in a town with three fabric stores! Here the nearest fabric store (a chain) is an hour away and the selection leaves much to be desired. I knew this was the case when I ventured out here, but didn’t realize how dependent on LA fabric selection I had become! But in Bangor, a mere hour away…is the mecca of all thrift stores! Now I love a good thrift store. I love the stories that old clothes have and I like to give them the opportunity to be born again. I like using thrift store finds because it gives shows the ‘lived in’ look. However, I am pretty picky about which thrift stores I like. In general, I have never liked Goodwill. I never find anything I need, and for the most part find them way overpriced. But the Goodwill in Bangor has single handedly saved “The Apple Tree”. In just one trip, I managed to outfit half the cast, which is quite a feat considering the musical is actually three musical playlets with drastically different settings: the Garden of Eden, a very Maxfield Parrish interpretation of Arabia, and 1960s Hollywood! Instead of struggling with the fact that my resources are not what I am used to, I have decided to embrace the fact that I have such a wonderful thrift store. I ended up modifying a lot of pieces for both the costumes and set making use of the resources I do have. Thinking about what you don’t have doesn’t do anyone any good. Love what you have. Lesson learned.
Lesson #3 Manage your time and be prepared to be flexible.
Now I am usually very good at time management. I do a lot of paperwork, keep good notes, and am an avid list maker. I have a to do list every day and there are always overall to do lists. I love to check things off my list even more than I love making them (crazy, I know!). I create timelines for myself as a designer and also for the shop. I have taken on several projects in the past where I have not had a shop to produce my design work and have had to rely on the power of coffee and the kindness of a single individual to help me build massive amounts of costumes (thanks, Mutti!). That is the case here in Dover-Foxcroft as well. Rhonda Kirkpatrick and Ed Hills (who have kindly opened their home to me as well) are my entire shop. Rhonda has taken on all of the costume building for my show allowing me time to do the ‘costume crafts’(my favorite part, and my strong suit). Ed has single handedly handled all my set construction. While they both are extraordinary craftsmen, because there is only one of each of them, and one of me for that matter, standard show timelines are out the window. Days are longer and hours are sporadic (see Lesson #1). And my biggest challenge is that the theatre space is also the town’s movie theatre and church service takes place there every Sunday morning. This means that I can’t work on painting or anything in the theatre space most evenings, and on Sunday morning, or that I have to break the set down to make room for the theatre’s other functions. This has forced me to be very flexible and think about time very critically, even more than before. Keep it simple and don’t freak when time is up. Lesson learned.
My experience here has certainly been a growing experience and I am so glad that I embarked on this transcontinental adventure. Now I can’t wait for the next one!