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Wardrobe Assistant Internships on Back To The Future, The Musical

January 24, 2023

We’re all big fans of the film Back to the Future and were delighted when it came to the West End as a musical. Masterclass has placed several interns on the show, most recently Holly Griffin and Chelsey Holt as Wardrobe Assistant Interns. We caught up with Holly and Chelsey after their internships finished to see what working in a West End show is all about.

Did you both have experience of working in costume before?

Holly – I had some understanding from my clothes making course of how garments worked, which really helped me get to grips quickly with mending garments on the show. But I learnt a huge amount during the internship, especially shadowing the Dressers – it’s amazing how much you are actually in the wings of the stage. You are moving constantly with the show, darting to different places. It relies heavily on the team working like a machine, otherwise it doesn’t work.

Chelsey – I had some experience from my degree, and from working in costume in TV, but the pace of theatre is a lot faster; you never stand still, you never sit down. In TV there is a lot of waiting around and it can be a tense environment, but theatre is more enjoyable and has more of a team feel.

What new skills did you learn whilst working on the show?

Chelsey – I mainly learnt new skills in the Dressing side of Wardrobe. I spent several days with the male ensembles, doing quick changes and learning in critical detail how to lay out costumes, and respond to cues. I also did some days in the workroom, learning how to wash different costumes and working on repairs. I repaired trousers that had holes in them, from all the knee sliding during the show, adding padding into the trousers to make them last longer.

Holly – If I was in early before the show I would help the Head of Department and Wardrobe Assistant with labelling items and maintenance issues on garments. When the Dressers arrived I shadowed them, learning where to collect laundry from, where costumes were stored and how the show worked, and covered several dresser plots for ensemble and principles. I spent quite a lot of time with the Wigs Department as most costume changes had a wig involved. It was great to mix with different departments, and the entire team was really welcoming and friendly.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during your internship?

Holly – It was really helpful having breaks in between shows as I was able to look over the notes during my time off and do some revision. I was looking for a challenge and it was a lot of new information and experiences. I took that spare time to wrap my head around everything and understand how different people liked to work when I moved to a new plot.

Chelsey – We had some small issues one day when dressing one of the principles, but we overcame it by talking it through together and working as a team – figuring out quick alterations to keep the show running smoothly, on time.

What was your favourite part of the internship?

Chelsey – Dressing the principal roles. It was really different and demanding compared to the ensemble. I enjoyed all of the different elements to their costumes and the quick changes.

Holly - It’s been really nice to work with such a welcoming and open team. They were happy to teach me everything they knew. It’s been a wonderful experience, and the perfect first West End role. I've had a really good time!

What roles in theatre do you now feel confident in applying for?

Holly - For sure Dresser roles! I think I need a bit more knowledge around costume maintenance and sewing skills to apply for Wardrobe Assistant roles, but I’m confident to handle a dressing role by myself now. I have more of an understanding of the range of costume roles in theatre, whereas before I wasn’t sure what they entailed.

Chelsey - I’ve applied for a Dresser role in the West End, which I feel confident to do now I’ve had the experience. I’ve also expanded my network and made connections with people that I know I can contact for help or advice in the future.

What do you hope to do next?

Chelsey – I’d like to work in theatre. I really enjoyed this first experience, and I am keen to pursue my interests in costume and sustainability during the day, whilst working in the evenings.

Holly – Back to the Future The Musical has offered me a role as a Deputy Dresser, which I’m really excited about. It has allowed me to move on from my ad hoc jobs in hospitality. In the future I want to do Costume Construction at university - I’ve kind of done it the other way round from most people, and got some experience in the real world so I know it is what I really want to do!

What advice would you give to young people looking to work in costume backstage in theatre?

Holly - Keep trying! Keep applying to anything you see – keep going. If you are unsure about anything just ask questions. There are no silly questions, as the team at Back to the Future The Musical kept reassuring me. The more you learn, the more you’ll be helped into the next stage.

Chelsey - I would say start! As soon as possible. Look out for internships like this one, it was super helpful to grow my confidence and make me feel qualified to do the role. Get the experience, the connections and start your career.

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