Forty-six costumes in 90 minutes: dressing the lightning-fast cast of Toxic Avenger
Published Tuesday, December 8, 2009 7:51PM EST
In the Toronto production of Toxic Avenger, its not just characters White Dude and Black Dude who bear the brunt of their 16 costume changes throughout the show.
The show’s four-person wardrobe team is kept as busy as the two actors, who play nearly everyone in the toxic-waste smothered town of Tromaville in the 90-minute play.
There are a total of 46 costumes in the five-person show, a hilarious take on the Toxic Avenger cult film, which runs at Toronto's Danforth Music Hall until Jan. 3.
In addition to stellar performances and a zany script, a hefty chunk of the show's success can be attributed to the speedy wardrobe workers, tucked away in the bowels of the theatre's cramped backstage.
The dressers spend each night turning actors Jamie McKnight and Daren A. Herbert from doctors to gal pals to good-for-nothing teens - and the list goes on.
Each dresser does 25 quick-changes throughout the night with a speed that is hard to imagine when viewing the play from the audience.
An actor will seemingly disappear from view and then reappear seconds later as a completely different character.
The dressers are led by wardrobe supervisor Cathy deGrosbois, who says the fastest change of the whirlwind show takes a mere two seconds.
In that time, actor Louise Pitre scoots behind a set piece dressed as Toxie’s haggard, robe-clad mother, but immediately re-emerges as the hard-as-nails, skirt-suit-wearing mayor of Tromaville, only to change back a few seconds later.
The most complicated change-up happens earlier in the show, when actor Evan Alexander Smith is transformed from a love-struck nerd into a massive, rage-ridden hunk of radiation after he is dipped upside down into a barrel full of toxic waste.
With Smith’s legs still visible to the audience, his top half begins to undergo a massive makeover undertaken by three dressers, a wig person and a sound person, says deGrosbois.
The wig person takes off the actor’s wig and glasses before he falls all the way into the barrel, at which time he removes his own pants and sits on a stool while a dresser removes his shoes.
Others get to work on his top half, which includes fake muscles, makeup, drippy fingers, a stringy wig and a microphone pack so he can he heard from under his new exterior as the Toxic Avenger.
The calm, easygoing deGrosbois admits it takes a certain amount of focus and patience to handle such a high-speed task night after night.
“You have to be calm in the face of adversity,” she told CP24.com, smiling widely while attesting to the quality of her wardrobe team.
“The thing is, once you do it over and over, you start to know exactly how much time you have to fix problems if something goes wrong.”
She describes the backstage ballet as a tightly choreographed affair: after attiring one character, dressers know exactly when and where they must move to be ready for their next change.
“The changes are pretty standard fare, it’s that they come in such rapid succession in this show,” said deGrosbois.
A misstep along the way could mean getting in an actors way or being late for her next mark.
“What we do in the changes will dictate how fast the show will go,” says deGrosbois. “Fortunately, we haven't had someone go on with someone else's pants or no shoes.”