MWS spoke with Terri Purcell, Wardrobe Supervisor for Mean Girls and industry veteran. She told us what the life of a Wardrobe Supervisor is like and what makes for a good (or tough!) experience.
Terri Purcell: Early Experiences
MWS: Terri, you’ve been in the business since 1987. I guess we can safely say you’re a real pro! Can you tell us a little bit about what drew you to it and how you got your start?
Terri: I studied costume design in college, University of Texas at Austin. When I moved to NY, I did some tiny, free, budget out of my own pocket kind of shows. I got a job as wardrobe supervisor, at Manhattan Theatre Club, for a survival job, and found that I enjoyed working wardrobe jobs so much!
I did Off-Broadway for a few years, then became a swing on Jerome Robbins Broadway. Both of those jobs did more to prepare me for my current living than anything else. In one, I was usually supervising myself, and had no help. In the other, there was a cast of 65, and I don’t even know how many dressers. It was in the day before dressers prepared their own notes, so as a swing, you followed, and took notes at the same time. It was a mammoth job, and now that I know more, I still don’t know HOW they/we did that show!
MWS: Can you give us an example of an early lesson you learned? Were you always interested in the need to be resourceful on the job!
Terri: Well, there are some lessons I like to learn again and again. One thing is, when you don’t have a shoe person, you must must must remember to go back and pick up the shoes!
Also, at the end of the day, the thing that I really need, more than anything else, is that I have a crew who hold each other up, that we have each other’s backs. That’s been as true in 1986 as it is now.
Terri Purcell: Range of Experience
MWS: You’ve done a broad range of touring and Broadway… how do those two experiences differ?
Terri: Well, I have never actually done a real tour, only out of town try outs, and a little pre-Broadway tour. The answer is easy, though…the crew! Here, I can hire my own crew, so I know what makes a cohesive crew. I always have a few new people to add in, but that is the best freedom, hiring people whose strengths you rely on.
MWS: Have there been shows that had truly unique challenges?
Terri: Where to begin… every show has its challenges. Usual challenges are space, budgetary number of hours, personalities…. But every show has its own problems too, unique to that show. I’ve done a lot of shows with kids, which I have totally loved. But after a weeks vacation, wearing flip flops, often the kids come back completely not being able to put their show shoes on. Then sometimes you need to have a pair of sneakers that a boy can put on over his ballet slippers, but are secure enough when he doesn’t wear the slippers. Shoe rigging is always a challenge. Scheduling around the details of everyone’s life is a challenge. Its all challenging, but solvable!
Terri Purcell: Long Running Shows
MWS: What are the advantages and challenges of working a really long running show? And what’s the longest you’ve worked on a show?
Terri: My longest run was Billy Elliot, at 4 ½ years. When the show is settled, its easier to take time off for important family things. On Mean Girls, I missed an important wedding, and my son’s production of Our Town. Missing both of those things made me so sad, so very sad. But everyone understood, no one was mad, because I try to do everything when I can.
As soon as Mean Girls opens, I’ll be at my son’s opening night of In The Heights at his school! And I missed my cousin’s wedding, but I went to the brunch the next day, and I think I planted myself in the collective memory, and my hope is that in the future, they’ll all think I was there at the wedding!
Terri Purcell: Bringing and Out of Town Run to Broadway
MWS: Mean Girls just opened on Broadway and you’ve already been out of town in DC with it. What’s the initial transition like when you bring a show to Broadway from an out of town run?
Terri: Well, it’s interesting. More costumes are ready, so there’s time to focus on things that make the show run well. For example, have I spread out the changes evenly? Is there anything I can do to make this quick change go better? How can I set up the laundry in a way that makes the most sense to Lyssa. Out of town, we were just trying to get costumes onstage!
MWS: What makes for a particularly great or particularly difficult job on a show?
Terri: For me, when I have a show that’s particularly complicated to put swings into, that affects the whole experience. When we use 2 or 3 people to cover one track, that makes it so hard for a dresser. And it’s really hard when a show is difficult to teach a swing,
Terri Purcell: MWS
MWS: How did your relationship with Manhattan Wardrobe Supply begin and how has it developed over the years?
Terri: Well, I like to believe I was an early customer! I met Tommy on Jerome Robbins Broadway, where I was a swing. And he was friends /roommates with my friend Lori Borek! We had always talked about how great it would be to have a business that was open for our hours and had everything we use. And he and Cheryl did it! I beg Tommy every time I see him to please stay in business forever. Its such a great place. And the staff he has hired have always been so helpful to me. Tommy has actually opened his doors for one crisis or another when he wasn’t even open. I’m so proud of Tommy and Cheryl, and at the same time grateful.
Thanks, Terri! We can’t wait to see Mean Girls!!