The 39 Steps, playing at the Singleton Theatre through June 18, implements numerous moving parts, such as Alfred Hitchcock film styles, a thrilling spy novel and a dash of Monty Python comedy with a 1935 London backdrop. This show also uses quick-change techniques for three actors playing more than 50 roles.
Heidi Echtenkamp, Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Wardrobe Supervisor, explained the diverse “quick rig” styles, including Velcro and magnets. The fastest change time is seven seconds and the longest is 14 minutes.
“Some of the styles of quick rigging in use are suspenders instead of belts to hold up pants, magnets on the shirts, bowties and [clip-on] ties so they can come off and go on easily,” she said. “Velcro on all button-down shirts, layers sewn together to create a look of many layers, but it is actually just one piece going on and off.
“Hair sewn into hats,” Echtenkamp added, eliminate the need to change both a wig and an accessory. “Elastic shoelaces to help them slide in and out of their shoes, and quick rig clips to get in and out of heels.”
Echtenkamp mentioned quick change keeps the cast moving with the pace of the show to captivate audiences. “By having the costumes quick rigged, the cast does not have to slow down their energy for a costume change. The show happens as we have [rehearsed] it, and the audience enjoys all aspects of the show as one experience.”
One quick change challenge is doing it with set changes. But Echtenkamp, the designers and actors easily maneuver in these spaces.
“Sometimes we have three feet of space and sometimes we have the width of the three bodies involved in the change,” she explained. “There is one choreographed change stage right where a crew member moves two doors and a ladder to give space for three dressers to set up quick changes for two actors, who run off and have to be back on stage quickly.”
As the Wardrobe Supervisor, Echtenkamp says each show is a learning experience in its own right.
“Every person I work with and every show I work on, I learn something new,” she stated. “I then take that knowledge and I am able to apply it to my next show and next team of people I work with.”