A couple of weekends ago, I was leading a backstage tour for donors (one of my all-time favorite things to do as part of my job), and I got a question I couldn't answer. "What kind of sewing machine is that?" I was asked as we stood in the costume shop. I was stumped. It looked industrial, yet it had delicate thread looped through its needle. "I'll get back to you on that!"
As I start my 12th season at Berkeley Rep, I find myself still learning about all of the little details that go into the makings of live theatre. Today I learned what a blind hemmer is. Our first hand, Janet Conery, explained to me that this machine is used to make "blind" hems, the kind of hems you can’t see. I also learned it's a machine that we've rarely used despite its life in the costume shop for the past 20 years (after receiving it as a donation). When the machine is employed, more often than not, it's to make a chain stitch in long swaths of fabric more quickly than using another type of machine. Who knew?
I've also learned other things over the years--for instance, the excruciating detail that goes into painting faux tile by our scenic artist or how our props department can recreate a realistic screaming baboon simply from looking at a photo or what the actors' union requirements are for the laundering of costumes. Sharing these seemingly insignificant details help to fill in the big picture of just what it takes to make theatre. I know that I'm awestruck by it, and I often find that our donors are as well. Certainly, seeing what happens behind-the-scenes, up close and personal, gives you a whole new perspective the next time you're sitting in the audience.
Our next donor backstage tours are happening in February. I'm hopeful to get another question that stumps me, and connects me a little bit more to the life behind the scenes.
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