Serving up Gratitude and Good Cheer: Backstage at WAITRESS with Adele Miskie, Dresser of Jessie Mueller
Wintertime may bring frosty weather, but behind the scenes at Broadway’s WAITRESS, there is enough warmth and cheerful spirit—and freshly-baked pies— to fuel the entire holiday season!
WAITRESS, which opened for previews in March of 2016, has made Broadway history by being the first musical to have a four-woman creative team (writer, composer/lyricist, director, and choreographer.) It tells the moving story of “Jenna,” a hardworking server at an Indiana diner, dealing with an abusive spouse, experiencing a trio of life-changing events, and finding solace and strength in baking extraordinarily delicious desserts.
Did you smell the pie as you walked into the theater? That was no illusion!
The audience gets a full sensory experience of Jenna’s baking: not only does the aroma of a freshly-baked pie greet theatergoers in the lobby, but rotating pie cases grace the proscenium, pie ingredients are mixed and kneaded rhythmically onstage, and mini pies are sold as concessions in the house. A hands-on theater experience for all!
And even more hands-on magic happens behind the scenes—and that has a lot to do with the show’s dressers.
I caught up with Adele Miskie—the dresser for WAITRESS star Jessie Mueller—backstage at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. Her career of dressing 16 Broadway shows includes the revival of 42ND STREET, THE KING AND I at Lincoln Center, WHITE CHRISTMAS, MOTOWN, and GOLDEN BOY. FUN FACT: Adele is a friend of CB, frequently teaching at workshops and camp programs! Ms. Miskie’s warm, welcoming, kind demeanor is matched by her enthusiasm for her job. “It’s so exciting! There’s always so much going on backstage,” Ms. Miskie says. “I’m thrilled to be a dresser.”
So, what is a dresser exactly?
Many things. Dressers are part of a show’s wardrobe crew, handling all of the costume pieces and conducting “quick changes.” A strong bond between the dresser and the actor quickens the pace of costume changes, and allows for a smooth backstage flow.
Ms. Miskie: “I am responsible for getting the costumes I handle ready for each performance – pressing, steaming, checking for—and making—small repairs. I am responsible for presetting the costumes as well, putting them in a location where I will meet the actor to do the costume change. During the show I help the actor(s) change their costumes. Sometimes this is at a leisurely pace, while other times it has to happen in just a few seconds. These fast ones are called ‘quick changes’ and they must be choreographed and executed the same way each night so that the actor and you have this ‘dance’ to make it in time.
“And then I do whatever extra I can to make the actor as comfortable as possible so that they can focus on their show. This might include but is not limited to: getting coffee, tea, water, snacks at intermission, setting up a humidifier and other things that the actor might need or want.”
Ms. Miskie believes wholeheartedly in chasing one’s career dreams. She absolutely encourages teens, young adults—people of all ages—to think outside the box, try something new, and be open to career paths that change direction.
Ms. Miskie: “There are so many opportunities in the theater world. Each job has a skill set and you can find which job suits you best. I also encourage students to try to schedule an information interview: talking with someone in the field is first-hand knowledge about what to expect on a day-to-day basis.”
In addition to exploring opportunities in the theater, Ms. Miskie says counting her blessings is a large part of her daily work.
So, listen up, teen Broadway fans: counting your blessings is as easy as pie!
Here are five Broadway blessings Ms. Miskie is grateful for:
- Appreciate The Journey: Where You Start isn’t Always Where You End Up!
Ms. Miskie: “I actually started out majoring in Horticulture! I studied it in college, and got my degree. Then an advisor told me: ‘Hey, you’re so good at communicating! Have you ever tried teaching?’ I began to look into it, and got my Masters degree in counselor education. I was a high school guidance counselor for 11 years! After a decade of working in public education, I was ready to try something new. A friend sent me an ad in ‘Backstage’ for costume internships and I called the number. The costume shop manager then offered me a job as a dresser. It changed my life!”
- Cultivate Your Connections:
Ms. Miskie: “It’s so important to make connections, because you never know who will help you in the future! I moved to New York in 2000, and was trying to get my first gig [as a Dresser.] My first two New York jobs were off-Broadway, and I got both of those jobs from my contacts at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia! As it turns out, I was invited to a Christmas party hosted by a friend of mine (also a contact from the Walnut Street Theatre.) This friend was cast as a feature in the revival of 42ND STREET on Broadway. We talked for a while, and later, when he went in for his fitting, and said to the costume person, ‘Hey, I know someone who would be really great. Let me give you her contact info.’ The theater contacted me, and I had a job at my first Broadway show! So: I’m all about networking!”
- Say Thank-You to Those Who Deserve It: (Those Onstage, and Those Behind the Scenes!)
Ms. Miskie: “There’s a world of activity happening backstage. There are SO many jobs! People should know that their artistry can be of value behind the scenes, and this can be just as rewarding as taking a bow in front of the lights. Everyone backstage contributes to the production and is deserving of thanks. Just think: there are people backstage getting that slice of pie ready; people underneath the stage in the trap room so that when performers jump off of something onstage, they land safely; people changing wigs and costumes…. I would like students to know that there’s a multitude—a multitude!—of jobs in the theater, if they look a little bit beyond the performance and understand not only what those jobs are, but how many there are.”
- Support Causes that You Believe In:
Ms. Miskie: “I would have to say that this piece is so special for me because I think that this is the first time I’m doing a show that has a message that is a current social issue. [The subject matter of WAITRESS: the social, financial, emotional issues it addresses] is just so modern and in your face. And the music is so varied! Ms. Sara Bareilles has done such a great job of dividing up the score so that you’re crying one moment and you’re laughing the next.”
- Build Community:
Just as Ms. Miskie is thankful to be a part of WAITRESS, Jessie Mueller is thankful to have Ms. Miskie as her dresser. Smiling, Ms. Mueller embraced Ms. Miskie in a hug after a matinee performance.
Ms. Mueller: “We all rely on each other so much, and we were really blessed in the group that we got, because of the heart and creativity everybody puts into WAITRESS. And I think that it’s a reminder every night of how essential community is. Nobody can go out there and do it alone…. I’m grateful for the teamwork aspect of it and I rely on it very, very much.”
As you settle into the holiday season, take a tip from the cast and crew of WAITRESS, and make it a point to count your blessings. It’s a nice exercise to remind you of all that you have and all that you are. And your newfound gratitude may help you serve up kindness to others!
Share your messages of gratitude in the comments below!
Many thanks to Adele Miskie and Jessie Mueller, from Anna Allport and Camp Broadway, for this delightful interview!