Catherine Kodicek: Let’s celebrate the work of theatre’s costume professionals
Looking over my columns in the past year it’s hard to miss the pattern: low pay, no pay, opportunities not advertised, long hours, burnout, mental health issues, unfair buyout contracts and backstage workers’ goodwill being exploited.
It’s a pretty depressing reading list. So why do any of us do it? If it isn’t for the money and the sociable hours, why do my fellow costume professionals carry on working in theatre?
The answer is that we love it. That doesn’t really seem sufficient to sum up the feelings we have for this crazy profession but like so many things, the simplest answer is the truth. We count ourselves lucky to be in such an amazing environment, to know the people we know, to work with the people we work with and to use the stage to challenge the world – albeit from our quick-change area or workroom.
We’re part of a vast ecosystem of costume makers, dressers, costume supervisors, breakdown artists – not to mention the wider world of hire houses, suppliers and dry cleaners, all of whom take a special glow from knowing their work supports and nurtures live performance, be it theatre, opera or dance.
So it is only fitting that once a year we celebrate this panoply of dedicated people on social media. Costume Professionals Appreciation Day falls on July 23 – St Jane’s day, the patron saint of seamstresses. It is a day to celebrate costume work and amplify the existence of a wider community of costume professionals working together.
Last year, many of us shared photos of our work, shout-outs to the costume people we value, and to the professionals who have worked with us over the year from the other backstage technical departments.
What we had not anticipated was that the love and respect was reciprocal. Colleges, producers, actors, theatres, directors and designers joined in to show their appreciation. It was a genuine day of togetherness spanning all corners of the theatre world.
This year the Costume in Theatre Association is also marking the occasion with its first ever pay survey for costume supervisors, trying to capture a snapshot of pay and conditions for freelances working in theatre. It seems fitting that on a day when we are celebrating the work of costume professionals we should also be working towards fairer pay and conditions.
Activism aside, this is a day for positivity and celebration. I have been trawling through my photo albums for choice items to share, and with that search have been reminded of all the amazing people I have had the immense privilege to work with, the beautiful costumes – so full of character – created, the actors bringing the stories to life, the directors at the helm, the designers with the vision, the stage managers holding the reins, the light, stage and sound creating the environment. It has been another amazing year. Time to share the love.
Catherine Kodicek is head of costume at London’s Young Vic theatre. Read more of her columns at thestage.co.uk/author/catherine-kodicek
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