Fancy Footwear: Secrets of Dressing Up The Music Circus

Share |
(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

No doubt about it, the biggest theater company in Sacramento is The Music Circus. The summer season is just 8 weeks long. But the Music Circus can seat 2,200 people for each performance, which is roughly 2,000 more seats than most other theaters in town. And at the Music Circus, almost all of those seats are filled. (crowd noise)

“Ladies and Genlemen…..” (cheers)

But the ticket buying public experiences only the visible portion of the operation, which is to say the shows. There’s a huge backstage team that makes the shows possible – dozens of people who work seasonally at the Music Circus, but aren’t performers.  Like Bob Miller and Steven Howard, who are co-designers working in the Music Circus costume department. Over the course of a year, they work in many cities. Steven Howard.

“Our career is costume design. So we’re basically free-lance costumers. We work in Florida, South Dakota, in New York, down in LA. So we go wherever the work is.”

Miller and Howard design for all sorts of events, including television and award shows. But when they interviewed for the job at the Music Circus, Miller and Howard came in for a surprise.

“It’s funny, because when we first interviewed for Music Circus, Scott Eckern, the artistic director, one of the first questions out of his mouth was ‘Do you know how to do shoes?’ And we’ve worked in television for like 30 years, and we’ve been doing theater for about as long. And nobody’d ever asked us that question. And I thought, gee I wonder what he means, ‘Can you do shoes?” And after our first show, we knew what he meant.”

Bob Miller has this advice for aspiring designers who’d like to work at the Music Circus someday.

“Your life is going to be all about shoes. Because when you do musicals, all the shoes for dancers have to be brand new. And they’re doing major dancing, so the fit is incredible. And when you have everyone in the same style of shoe, and they have to be braced and rubbered, the shoes, it’s like a nonstop job.”


Another part of the job is making sure the costumes are visually complimentary. Some costumes are rented, especially the specialty costumes, like The Beast in “Beauty and the Beast.” Other costumes are generic, and can be bought off the rack. And a few costumes are built from scratch. But wherever they come from, the costumes need to be in harmony. Bob Miller.

“When you build things, and you rent things, and you buy things, and you’re mixing them all together, it’s got to look all together. It can’t go, ‘Oh, I bet they built that dress.’ ”

Miller and Howard retrofit costumes with colored trimmings that tie things together visually, and get the shoes painted so they match the fabrics. Keeping the costumes clean and fresh is also an issue, because they are on stage six nights in a row, plus two matinees. Steven Howard. “Because we run for only a week, and we run every night except for Monday, there’s not enough time to have things dry cleaned. So costumes that can’t be dry cleaned, they make a mixture of vodka and water. And it disperses the, uh, body odor, and freshens the garments. That’s a little wardrobe trick that I thought was kind of interesting.”

“The clothing gets a cocktail every night.”


The Music Circus continues in the Wells Fargo Pavilion through August 28.  (music out)