I knew it would be a big step to become a freelance costume designer after 13 years of working in the safety of a theatre building. So I’m glad I took the precaution of asking the advice of my fellow costume professionals, before I took the plunge. Their support has made my first month of freelance life enjoyable, so I thought I’d share their tips.
First things first: you will not necessarily have daily access to a desk or a computer, a kitchen or toilets, so everything you need has to be in your bag. I now understand why people will spend thousands of pounds on a super-light laptop: every additional ounce matters when you are carrying it around all day.
Technology is your friend. There are apps for everything, so spend some time finding the ones you like. I have used apps for journey planning, navigating the short cuts on the underground, finding the nearest coffee shop with Wi-Fi and toilets, tracking my receipts and mileage and keeping tabs on my invoices. And given how important your technology is, you need devices with long battery life, a back-up portable charging source and knowledge of where you can sneak a recharge.
‘Technology is your friend. There are apps for everything’
Carry a packed lunch with you, a bottle of water, and a variety of quality snacks to see you through the day. Meeting a costume supervisor friend for coffee, we laughed about how we both had cutlery in our bags.
Speaking of coffee, get a really good travelling mug that keeps your coffee hot, if, like me, you seldom finish a drink in one sitting and end up throwing it away. Buying coffee is expensive, disposable cups are bad for the environment and cold coffee is depressing. I also carry my own favourite brand of decaf for times when I can make my own coffee, a little taste of home on a busy day.
Edit your bag every day. I cannot believe the amount of stuff I used to accumulate that I did not need when I was travelling between home and the office. Scissors, photocopies of costume designs, costume bibles and multiple notebooks, hundreds of pens. Try to go paperless for the planet as much as your back, keep reference and design images on a laptop or tablet, try note-taking apps and if you are still in love with the notebook go lightweight.
And lastly, wear layers. The underground is like a furnace, outdoors is wintry, some offices are cold, some theatres are hot, you need to be able to regulate your temperature – this goes double for menopausal costume people who may be experiencing their own personal summers. I speak from experience.
And never forget, that if it wasn’t for this crazy job, you could still be working in a bank. Maybe that last one’s just for me.
Catherine Kodicek is head of costume at London’s Young Vic theatre. Read more of her columns at thestage.co.uk/author/catherine-kodicek