WOMEN IN CHARGE
This fall, more than 50 Washington, D.C. professional theatres are participating in the momentous Women’s Voices Theater Festival, showcasing more than 50 world premiere plays by women. In the spirit of the festival, Shakespeare Theatre Company wants to highlight some of its Women in Charge. Theatre is a collaborative art, and a successful production involves stage managers, scenic designers, administrators and grant writers, costume designers, prop masters, trainers, and so many more. That is why we are taking the opportunity to highlight some of our women behind the scenes who keep our theatre, and the art form, alive.
During the run of Yaël Farber’s Salomé, our contribution to Women’s Voices, we will be publishing interviews with some of the women you will not see onstage, but who keep STC running smoothly. We’re proud to put these wonderful women in the spotlight!
We hope you enjoy the fourth installment, featuring Wendy Stark Prey, STC’s costume shop director.
AN INTERVIEW WITH WENDY STARK PREY
How long have you been working in the arts?
Over 20 years.
What got you started in the arts?
I had participated in theatre during high school, but my parents didn’t think it was a respectable or reliable profession long term, so I enrolled in undergraduate as an international business and German major. I hated Accounting II and pretty much all the business courses. I auditioned for shows and was cast in many productions, so I was still involved in theatre. I switched my major to interior design in hopes that it would be artistic enough, but it wasn’t. I finally made the decision my junior year to be a theatre major. When I stapled myself to the set during crew call, the TD thought it might be best if I tried my hand at costuming, so I went to the costume shop. At the end of my senior year, I realized that auditioning scared me to death, and I really liked costumes, so I went and got my MFA in costume design and technology and have worked in a costume shop ever since.
Tell us about a time you “saved the day.”
I think “saving the day” is a heroic set of words for being a creative problem solver and a collaborative artist—which is what my job is. There are always unique problems with costumes in productions that haven’t occurred before. During Cymbeline we purchased boots specifically with lug soles to prevent the actors from slipping on the glossy deck when it rained onstage. When we were in tech and hit the part with the rain, the boots squeaked like a bunch of high school boys running down a hallway. The problem was solved by cutting off the lug soles and putting on dance rubber, which was something I tried on a lark, as I was out of solutions. Who knew it would work, but it did!
As a member of the Production Department you reach out to assist other departments as needed. For our production of The Tempest last season, the gentleman hired to build the massive puppets was unsure of how to get the large amounts of fabric to drape right for function and look. I stepped in and worked with the puppet builder and the costume shop to assure that what was needed and desired was accomplished. It took a lot of cross-departmental work, but in the end, the puppets were beautiful as well as functional.
Can you explain your role in the theatre world, for those who might not know?
The costume director is responsible for making sure that all the costumes, costume crafts, wigs and makeup are on time, in budget, and held to the artistic standard of Shakespeare Theatre Company. My job is multifaceted and includes working with the STC Costume/Craft/Wardrobe staff on all aspects of our field from construction to fittings to maintenance. I work with the costume designers who are hired as liaisons and am a guiding force between their wants and needs and ours. I work with other production departments, directors, and choreographers to assure the needs of the production are being met. I also work with other departments within STC to conduct donor tours, costume displays, and fulfill needs of the Education Department to promote and support STC and its mission. It is a lot of schedules, budgets, fittings, compromise, encouragement, problem solving, guidance, and patience.
What’s the best part about your job?
There are many great parts about my job:
1.) The projects are always changing. Because costumes are different for every show, every six to eight weeks you begin something new with a new set of challenges. If there is a project you don’t really like, hold on, in a few weeks it will be over, and you will move onto something else. If a project is really hard, and you aren’t sure how you are going to get it done, hold on, you will have to figure it out, and then it will be over.
2.) Unlike some jobs where you never see the fruits of your labors, we always get to see the results of what we have worked on. That can be incredibly rewarding when it has been a very intense or difficult project.
3.) I love working in a collaborative, artistic environment with creative people who bring an excitement and passion to their work. There can be so much energy and excitement when working creatively, and I am exposed to amazing artists, internally and externally, that I learn from every day.