My phone rang.
The caller ID said it was dresser dispatch.
Odd. All the plays in town had been staffed.
“Dennis, I have a call for three dressers for the Selena Gomez concert at the arena tomorrow.”
The dispatcher relayed all the details.
“I’m going to pass,” I said and hung up the phone. It was only a few hours of work. Theatre and opera was more my mode for dressing. A rock concert didn’t interest me.
Who the fuck is Selena Gomez?
At first I thought of Selena –the Queen of Tejano music: the one that Jennifer Lopez played in that 90’s bio movie. The film ended with her manager murdering her. It obviously wasn’t that Selena.
I Googled Selena Gomez.
I’m such a dumbass. Of course …she’s that Disney star. Barney, the purple dinosaur. Hannah Montana. Justin Bieber was fucking her for a while. She does commercials for home hair dye.
The next morning, the phone rang again. It’s dresser dispatch and they really need a dresser that evening for the Selena Gomez concert at the arena.
“What the Hell? I’ll do it.”
I posted on my Facebook that I was going to dress the Selena Gomez concert. A few of my friends went nuts.
“I love her.”
“I’m so jealous!”
“Maybe you’ll see Justin Bieber.”
Celebrities, in general, don’t impress me. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. Yet, I hear tales of dealing with “stars” from my friends who have worked with them. Some of the dresser-stories are cute and fun. While other backstage folklore passed down through the years is quite scary. Am I going to be traumatized working this concert?
I have a couple of friends who shudder when you mention Faye Dunaway.
Faye Dunaway (Mommie Dearest, Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown) allegedly done-away with a dresser-a-night from my local union when she was on tour in the 1990’s with Terrence McNally’s play, Master Class.
She screamed at Faye Dresser #1, “WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME???” That dresser was quickly dismissed.
Faye Dresser #2 –goodbye.
Faye Dresser #3 –get lost.
Faye Dresser #4 wrote a resignation letter before she even went to the theatre.
From what I understand, the producers had to fly in a Faye-approved dresser from New York City to dress Ms. Dunaway for the rest of her turn in Master Class.
However, our IATSE contract stipulated that a local dresser had to be on payroll. Local Faye Dressers #5 got paid just to contractually be in the building —and NOT go near the bothered actress.
And then there’s Randy Quaid (Brokeback Mountain, Independence Day, Caddyshack). I sat on the bus ride to the arena hoping Selena would be nothing like him.
There are techs who still talk about Randy Quaid at another local theatre. He was in town to do a Broadway-bound musical called Lone Star Love: a western-themed version of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. According to one newspaper, “…all 26 members of the cast brought charges against Quaid, maintaining that he ‘physically and verbally abused his fellow performers and that his oddball behavior forced the show to close.’”
Actor’s Equity Association fined Mr. Quaid $81,000 and banned him for life. The actor can never perform on stage in a play in America again. Ever.
Lone Star Love never made it to Broadway. Canceled. Glad I missed that one. (Check out Randy Quaid’s Wikipedia page for more of his antics.)
Back to Selena Gomez. I arrived at 7pm and was passes from one security guard to another like a football as we went deep into the underground bowels of the arena. I was given an official Selena Gomez badge that I was to wear at all times. I met my fellow dressers, then it was time to get to work.
We were told that Ms. Gomez traveled with her own dresser. I doubted that any of us would even get to meet her (fine). We started prepping the backup-dancer’s clothes. When we finished, we were given an hour break to check out the fancy catering down the hall.
After break, all the dressers were led to three tents that were set up as the backup-dancers quick change rooms behind the stage where we waited for the concert to begin.
Right on time, there she was …Selena Gomez (and her handlers) three feet away from me. She’s a tiny woman with enough long dark hair and makeup for three people.
She puts her pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us.
Suddenly, it was like a bomb went off. The concert began.
Inside the tents, dozens of back-up dancer’s costumes were stacked on chairs in the order that they were worn with a discard laundry basket next to each chair. Our job was to grab discard baskets and take them back to the wardrobe area and hang the used costumes up as they took them off. Back and forth. Back and forth.
That’s all the dressers did through the whole concert. We probably hung up fifty baskets of sweaty costumes and sprayed them with vodka (a cheap substitute for Febreze used widely in the industry). The concert was over before we were done hanging and spraying.
“Can you give this a spray?” Selena’s personal dresser asked at the end of the evening.
She handed me one of Selena’s jumpsuits and I complied. For the record: I didn’t tingle with excitement. It was just another costume to me.
I realize that I was braced for something bad to happen: too bad for you readers who are fans of Selena. I don’t really have anything else to share with you about dressing her concert. But I can offer you a bonus Ann Margret story. More local dresser folklore: you could substitute “Selena Gomez” for “Ann Margret” if you like.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas toured the country in the early 2000’s starring Ms. Margret. Theatrical costumes are always labeled on the inside with the actor’s name, character’s name, and the name of the show.
Best Little Whorehouse
However, on Whorehouse, Ann Margaret’s bras strangely had no label.
Due to it’s value: privately or on the black market.
Legend has it that one of her bras had been stolen early in the tour. It was a scandal. After the bra theft, it was the local laundry person’s job in each city to launder and air dry the bra with close supervision, wrap it like a burrito inside a discreet towel, and walk the unlabeled Ann Margaret bra to her dressing room like it contained the nuclear code.
No sicko’s going to steal Ann Margaret’s bra again!
A week after the Selena concert, I got a paycheck for five hours of work at the union rate. I paid my phone bill.
Dennis Milam Bensie is a writer and, for thirty years, has made his living as a dresser in professional theatre all over the United States. Short stories and poetry by Dennis have been featured in numerous publications and his essays have been seen in The Huffington Post, Boys on the Brink, and The Good Men Project. He has three books published by Coffeetown Press. This essay is part of a series for Queen Mob's Teahouse on his experience working backstage.