The Illusive Art of the Quick Change

The book I’m currently working on is set in a theater company, which means I’ve been doing research into what makes live theater work, and what is and is not possible. So far, one of my biggest pet peeves as far as plausibility is when movies/TV shows portray theater productions doing the impossible quick change.

(For all my non-theater peeps out there the Quick Change is when a performer has to change rapidly (usually within seconds) from one costume into another costume. Sometimes even from one character to another.)

A quick change can involve removing not only clothes but complicated wigs and make up. And if you’ve never had to scrub off caked on make-up while stripping then stuffing yourself into a new outfit and all with only seconds to spare, then pal, you haven’t lived.

One production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” I did, we decided to attach a plastic nose then spirit gum a bunch of extra hair to the actor’s face to make her furry (it was a girl in this case and she actually had chest hair glued on too, which she then had to pull and scrub off after every performance). I was playing one of the fairies so it was my job along with the other fairies to basically haul the actor off stage then slather her face with glue, make up and the ratty fake hair. In a movie, that little backstage “magic” probably would have been glossed over entirely.

A perfect example of ignoring the mechanics of live performance is in the movie “Center Stage.” The lead dancer is in the middle of the big finale dance number. She’s wearing a pale blue dress with white ballet slippers. The camera pans down to her feet then slowly back up and suddenly she’s in a tight red dress. To be clear, she’s standing centerstage, no one has touched her, no one has covered her with a sheet or anything. Basically, the magic camera changes her clothes for her. Even her shoes change without any sign of how the dancer does it.

This is one of the things I love about “Legally Blonde” the musical (it’s actually a really cute show, trust me!). They try to replicate the movie so Elle and many of the other characters have tons of costumes, which usually means a quick change or two. Elle actually changes on stage two or three times throughout the show.

And the secret to these fabulous quick changes? Magnets. Many of the costumes were held together with magnets instead of zippers or complicated buttons. Sure makes getting in and out of the clothes much easier.

So, that’s my interesting tidbit for the day. How to make a quick change work: either have five girls coming at you with glue, fake hair and prosthetics or…just use magnets. Whatever works, right?

Have you heard of any interesting backstage tricks? Got any quick change tips? Please share them in the comments. :)

Bio: Beth Matthews writes fun contemporary romances with sexy geek heroes, blatant Shakespeare allusions, and Star Wars jokes galore.

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