Jun. 20th, 2006

labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
This summer, i've been working in the Costume Crafts department at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, UT. My contract is quickly coming to an end, and as such, I thought i'd write up a little overview of the company, some facts and some of my own opinions on how it is to work here as a costumer.

Though i'd known of it since undergrad (one of my former professors has designed here since the late 1980s), i didn't know til this summer that the Utah Shakespearean Festival has been in operation since 1962. It employs a total of around 350 folks each summer and fall, though only 28 people work here on a year-round basis. The company won the prestigious regional theatre Tony Award in 2000, which is no mean feat--one theatre per year gets it, and it's for recognized continuing excellence in regional theatre. No upstarts there, a theatre has to have been kicking ass and taking names for a good while in the eyes of the Tony voters to receive the award.

Summer isn't the only time theatre happens here in Cedar City; the USF also features a short three-show fall season, though for the purposes of my review, i'm only addressing the six-show summer portion (that being my experience here).

The festival has two main performance spaces, the Adams Theatre (an outdoor space built in the same fashion as typical 16th-century Tudor stages, with 888 seats) and the Randall Theatre (a modern indoor house that seats 769 people). In addition to the five plays and one musical offered in a typical summer season, the festival also hosts a free nightly "Greenshow," which consists of English and Irish folk dances, songs, and short humor skits poking fun at whatever shows are on the season's roster. Of the five plays in a summer season, three are Shakespeare productions performed in the Adams.

Something i find particularly interesting and exciting about the USF is its enormous import to its community--not only do 96% of its patrons come from the Southwest (60% are resident Utahns), but ticket sales actually provide around 80% of its operating budget. Its shows typically sell out nearly all performances. You'd be hard-pressed to find a local who's not familiar with the Festival, and who'd never gone to see anything they presented.

The typical design-fare of the USF shows is largely traditional--no "Tempest in spacesuits set in 2050" or "I'm seeing as Velvet Goldmine meets Richard II" wacky reinterpretations. This can be exciting from a craftsperson's perspective, particularly in terms of historic/traditional armor and millinery possibilities. Budgets for crafts items here seem to be sufficient enough to not have to scrimp and cut corners in quality of output--hides of leather, yardage of Fosshape, gold leafing, all of these have been readily available as-needed, no "making-do" with cheap pleather, craft felt and white glue, metallic acrylics. Working in the craft shop here definitely yields at least a few good portfolio-quality pieces.

I mentioned the 350-person employee-roster; here's how that breaks down for a costumer at USF for a typical summer season. In crafts alone we have a 10-person team: a supervisor, assistant supervisor, 7 lead crafts artisans, and one "floater"/intern. Dyeing/painting is an entirely different department, though typically only has 1-2 staffing that shop. The main costume shop itself is two stories, broken into five work rooms with 2-6 tables each (I'm guesstimating around 35 shop staff, counting drapers, first hands, stitchers, and supervisors?), four large fitting rooms, break room, and storage. The dye shop is also housed in the basement of that building. Crafts is off in a separate house, as is Hair/Makeup (staffed by around 8-10 wig technicians--this is a brilliant place to work if you want to learn to make lace-front wigs and hand-tied hairpieces!).

In the Crafts house, the space is divided into four workrooms, with two crafters' tables in each. The two supervisors each have a sort of "office foyer" on opposite ends of the house. Supply and tool storage is divided among the workrooms, with a different focus in each room--one for leatherworking tools and supplies, one for armor/casting, one for millinery/sewing, and one for jewelry. In terms of equipment, the crafts house includes an industrial walking-foot machine and an industrial patcher/bootstitcher, three domestic Berninas, an overlock machine, a gravity-feed ironing station, and industrial grommet/rivet setter, two industrial steamers, and a wide range of wood hatblocks, as well as a full array of hand-tools, casting materials, paints, solvents, adhesives, etc. Craftspersons are expected to bring their own portable kits (shears, craft scissors, thimbles, blades, etc), smocks, closed-toe footwear, and respirators.

The craft department schedule is standardized and regimented--the Monday-through-Friday shift starts promptly at 8:30am and ends exactly at 6pm, with two 20-minute breaks (one at 10:30am, one at 4pm) and an hour's lunch (12:30-1pm). Saturday is typically a half-day, 8:30am-1pm with a single break mid-shift. The shop allows conversation while working and the use of mp3 and CD players.

Hiring seems to have a healthy dose of what i call "legacy" involved--those who've worked here before to their supervisors' satisfaction are asked back the following season, with open slots in the shop going first to "newbies" with a professional reference from current staff, and assumedly, any other open slots after that filled by those without direct connections. I gather it is fairly hard to get in the hiring-door without knowing someone who works here or has worked here, and sometimes it can be tedious when those who've been here multiple seasons start dropping metaphorical trou with oneupmanshippy "This is my eighth season, donchaknow" conversations.

The Festival provides its employees with housing in furnished apartments (including full kitchens and baths), in addition to paying a modest but by no means paltry salary. Honestly, the apartments are no great shakes (ha!), but they aren't the skankiest place I've ever laid my head at night--i wouldn't sign a lease on the place I'm in now, but to live in for 2 months worth of my life, it's certainly more than acceptable. I have my own bathroom and the kitchen's got a dishwasher. I might have made more cash by staying home and working, say, as a night-shift grocery store stocker for $13/hour all summer, but i wouldn't have gotten any portfolio or resume fodder out of that, and it certainly wouldn't have been creatively stimulating or challenging. Plus, dude, night shift blows.

If I had it to do over again, i'd find some way to drive my car out here--you can definitely get by just fine in Cedar City without a car, but it's just that: getting by. I can walk to work, to the grocery store, to all the little shops and restaurants down main street, but on the days off, it's no fun to be smack in the middle of the Great Wide Open of southern Utah, with all the amazing National Parks within a couple hours' drive, and be dependent upon the whims of any of your coworkers who did have the foresight to drive vehicles out here for the summer. With a car, a weekend in Vegas or Salt Lake City or hiking around Bryce Canyon would be mine for the choosing.

All in all, i have had a good experience working here, and would certainly seriously consider returning next season.

The Randall Theatre.
The statue is of Juliet.

more photographs of the USF facilities )

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