Wardrobe Malfunctions

By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

Wardrobe Malfunctions

I love dressing up but it’s not the kind of dressing up that you might think. I’m not into the fancy, long, name-brand dresses, panty-hose (yuck) and high-heeled pumps with fancy poofed-up hair looking like Barbie gone mad.

I prefer costumes that, once put upon my body, completely turn me into someone else. Yes, friends, we call it THEATER! You can rehearse for six weeks, but you never really turn into the character until you are in full costume and makeup, which is why I salute costume mistresses everywhere.

It’s magical, really.

But, I have a history of wardrobe malfunctions starting long before Janet Jackson made the terminology “cool.” It never fails that, at least one night, during the three-week run of a show I am going to have some incredibly embarrassing moment on stage.

One of the most “unveiling times” I had was playing Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly, where, at the end of the show, I had 45 seconds off stage to go from Dolly’s typical flamboyant hat, long dress and high-buttoned shoes into her wedding dress. The costume designer made it into two pieces for easy access with the bottom part velcroed at the waist. Well, wouldn’t you know, as I entered the stage and spun around, the bottom of the dress twirled to the floor as if it was planned. Thank goodness I had a body suit on that covered my you-know-what! Okay, it was black, but still…!

In Annie Get Your Gun, as Annie, I lifted my gun to take a shot and the metal shaft on the rifle got caught in my right pigtail. So I never put the gun down, but rather finished the scene with the gun held up to my face. Buffalo Bill did not know what was going on; he only knew that this was being played out differently than rehearsal.

One night, during the performance of Mame, I was sitting on a big cutout of a moon singing the song, “The Man in the Moon is a Lady.” Of course, it is a very funny scene where Mame actually falls off the moon at the end of the number. All went well, except for the evening that my long, white, silky costume got stuck on the bottom point of the moon and, when I fell to the floor as planned, so did the moon, which was unplanned. It came down with a bang, hit me on my upper lip and blood came shooting out like a geyser. The audience roared because the scene was so funny! They thought it was meant to happen and figured the blood was the fake theatrical type. But as I continued the scene, with blood dripping from my lip onto my white costume, with no tissue in sight, as my nephew sang, “You’re My Best Girl” with fear on his face, it was one of those moments when you know the whole show could have gone to pot right there. But, we both held hands tighter than usual and got through it. This was also a scene where I was suppose to cry because I was just fired from my job, and my nephew tenderly sings how much he loves his Auntie Mame. That night I was able to cry better than ever because I was really hurt. Method acting!

It is most important when you are doing theater to make sure that during the dress rehearsal you have done everything you will do during the performance. Every single action is important. As Lola in Damn Yankees, I never wore my bright red lipstick until opening night because I was too busy to buy it. Well, what we all forgot was how many times I had to kiss Joe, the young baseball player I was trying to seduce at the devil’s request. It wasn’t until the scene after I kissed him for the first time that he and I realized he couldn’t wipe off the twelve-hour, stay-on lipstick. Cold cream wouldn’t budge it. Scene after scene, right until the end of the show, this macho baseball hero appeared with bright red lips. The next day I hit the CVS for the good, old-fashioned, traditional lip color.

During performances, sometimes you have very little time to use the bathroom, and the older I get, well…you know, I have to use it more often. So, I dashed into the ladies room to tinkle while Oklahoma was in progress, and once I pulled down my Ado Annie ruffled bloomers, I forgot that I had a body suit on and peed right through the snapped crotch. Well, after a number of expletives, I headed for the dressing room, grabbed the hair dryer and started to blow dry myself before going back on stage. Boy, those snaps can get hot!

One of my favorite shows ever is I Do I Do!, where I played opposite my real life husband, Chuck. There were only two of us in the entire show, and it tells the story of a couple from the time they get married until they move into a retirement home. In one scene I go into labor and start screaming because the baby is coming. However, one night I started screaming a lot earlier in the dialogue than usual, and Chuck couldn’t figure out what was going on. But, you see, I was wearing what is called a baby apron tied around my waist under my dress to look nine months pregnant, when all of a sudden, the snaps in the crotch of my body suit unsnapped. As the elastic began to rise, so did the baby apron, putting the baby right under my boobs instead of dropping down below. I had no choice but to lie on the bed and scream a lot sooner than planned. Of course, I couldn’t spread my legs like we had rehearsed because there was nothing left down there to cover me, so there I was, rolled over in a fetal position, pretending to be in labor while he ran around the room trying to pack the suitcase to take me to the hospital.

When it comes to dressing up, this is the kind I like to do most. Not that I don’t like being me, but it is so much fun to get to be someone else for a few weeks and get to do things and say things that I would never do as me!

And, the foibles of live theater cannot be ignored, and the improvisation that comes from the experience is priceless, offering a lifetime of memories and life-long friendships.

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