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Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Milwaukee Ballet

Off the Cuff with Wardrobe Mistress Krista Allenstein

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Wardrobe Mistress for Milwaukee Ballet may sound glamorous but it’s an essential function. For Krista Allenstein, it’s the ideal job. After two years volunteering and three more as assistant to longtime wardrobe mistress Mary Belle Potter, Allenstein took the position when Potter retired at the end of last season. She explains the role’s delicate details as she gears up for Milwaukee Ballet’s Winter Series, Feb. 13-16 at the Pabst Theater.

 

What does a wardrobe mistress do?

I don’t design or make costumes. I take care of them, make sure they’re in good repair and laundered. During performances, I lead a team of dressers in assisting the dancers with their costumes. Occasionally we rent costumes to other companies or to individual dancers. I keep track of them. I’m also in charge of shoes for the Milwaukee Ballet and Milwaukee Ballet II dancers. Each dancer wears a particular size and type. Ballet shoes wear out quickly. My job is to make sure they have shoes available at all times. Sometimes I have to paint shoes to match tights for a particular performance.

 

What are the most trying moments?

Lost costumes during performances. The staff puts the costumes in the dancers’ dressing rooms. When a dancer needs to make a quick change off the side of the stage, the dancer is responsible for placing their own costume so they know exactly where it is. Occasionally, a costume falls into the nebulous classification of both costume and prop. La Bohème had one—a muff used in Act Two that was essential for Act Three, part of the storyline. And it was lost! I ran around backstage like a crazy person hissing loudly, “Muff! Muff!” It turned up on top of a speaker.

 

What are you looking forward to? What do you dread?

I think Mirror Mirror in May is going to be incredible. The costumes are fantastic: whimsical, colorful and dramatic. I’m also looking forward to the Winter Series because it’s new for all of us.

I love Dracula, too. But I hate fake blood! It’s sticky, it smells weird and it gets all over the dry-clean-only dresses and pants by the end of every performance. We have to sponge it off. Some dancers go a little crazy with the blood. In those cases, the sponging process can be really gory.

 

What surprised you about this job?

When I describe what I do, it comes across as kind of…icky. Doing laundry, I touch a lot of dirty socks and tights. I do things that five years ago I would’ve hesitated to do for my kids. Now I do them without thinking and I love it. I’m surrounded by lovely people with crazy amounts of talent wearing costumes intricately detailed and extremely well made. Some of our costumes are 30 years old and I am entrusted with the responsibility of making sure they last for years to come. I have the honor of helping to make a performance looks its best. It’s my dream job.