One of the things I like about community theatre is that it offers me opportunities to do things I’ve never done before — to push the outside of the envelope, you might say. Today was certainly no exception. Before leaving home, I shaved off my beard, and then shaved the upper part of my chest. Next, I drove to the theatre, where I put on a dress and started applying lipstick and mascara.
Perhaps I should back up and explain. Today’s experience was a photo shoot for the cover of a local magazine, part of the publicity for Radio Gals, the final show of the 2007-2008 season. Here’s the description from the RLT website:
Musical. From the creators of Pump Boys and Dinettes comes a lively, nostalgia-dipped musical, with old-time musical numbers and country humor. It is a warm spring day in 1928. From her parlor in Cedar Ridge, Arkansas, Hazel Hunt broadcasts her own radio station: a daily fare of inspirational and popular tunes, gossip, funnies, recipes, classified ads, sports scores, and fan mail from her mailbag. However, due to Hazel’s habit of “channel wandering,” her broadcasts are not always so local, to which listeners as far away as Montreal can testify. Enter O. B. Abbott, Federal Radio Inspector, intent on rescuing the airwaves from Hazel, claiming that workmen have been receiving the WGAL radio signal in a tunnel under the Hudson River, and accusing Hazel of being a “gypsy of the ether!”
But auditions for Radio Gals haven’t been held yet. The costumes and sets don’t yet exist (everyone is still busy putting together Peter Pan). How do you photograph characters who haven’t been cast, wearing costumes that haven’t been made, on a set that hasn’t been built?
You cheat, of course. First of all, you don’t need the whole cast; you can just photograph a couple of the characters. And in this case, even though auditions haven’t been started, we do know who will play one of the following two characters (as described in the casting call):
AZILEE SWINDLE: Elderly, well-dressed lady. Friend and associate of Hazel’s. (Usually played by a male–Voice midrange — instrument: preferably bass)
MABEL SWINDLE: Elderly, well-dressed lady. Friend and associate of Hazel’s. (Will be played by Brent Wilson, the Musical Director–voice midrange, plays piano.)
So you just have to find someone to be Azilee, and dress him and Brent in existing costumes from RLT’s inventory. You locate an actual living room with a decor that looks right for the 1920s, and you shoot the pictures there.
Actress Denise Michelle Penven-Crew volunteered her living room, so all that was needed was a man who would agree to put on a dress and pose with Brent. But who? At one point, RLT’s Technical Director, Jim Zervas, thought he would have to do it — but he really needed to spend the time working on the Peter Pan sets. So, when I crossed paths with him after rehearsal two nights ago, he said, “Hey, Pat, I need a favor.”
The next thing I knew, I was down in the costume shop trying on a dress. Fortunately, I was able to fit into the black and pink dress that Jo Brown wore in You Can’t Take It With You as Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (on the left in this photo) back in 2004. We also found a suitable wig. Obviously my beard would have to go, and I would need to eliminate any chest hair that might be visible above the V-shaped neckline.
Now you know why I was in a dressing room at RLT today, wearing a dress and applying makeup. Costume Designer Jenny found a shawl, a couple of necklaces, and a pair of earrings to complete my ensemble. Brent was already dressed, made up, and ready to go. The two of us rode across town to Denise’s house with photographer Stuart and Office Manager Wayne.
We were surprised to find a utility crew digging up the street in front of the house, installing or replacing some buried pipes. There were about half a dozen men wearing orange vests and hardhats, and Brent and I walked right past them in our dresses, wigs, and makeup to get to Denise’s front door. They didn’t give us even one whistle or catcall! I was devastated.
Inside the house, Stuart and Wayne set up the lights. Brent and I posed with some prop microphones and musical instruments while Stuart snapped the pictures. After that, it was back to RLT, where I changed into my own clothes and scrubbed off the makeup.
And that’s why, in a few weeks, I will be appearing on a magazine cover in drag — dressed as a character that I won’t be playing in a show that I am not in. I’m afraid that theatre historians in the future will be terribly confused when they find these photos in the RLT archives. But imagine my confusion if, while I was working on the props crew for You Can’t Take It With You, a visitor from my future had appeared, pointed at Jo Brown, and said, “Take a good look at that dress. In a few years, you’re going to be wearing it.”
In any event, I can now update my resume to show that I have experience as both an actor and a model. In fact, considering where one of today’s pictures will end up, I believe I can truthfully say that I was a cover girl.