$388. A four day trek across America pulling over on the side of a 75mph highway to pee so I can save time. Motel 6. Love's truck stops. Oklahoma. Amarillo, Texas for the second time in my life (one too many). Monday morning after moving into my house-share on the outskirts of Artsy Fartsy (the name of the town for lack of a better pseudonym). I couldn't be farther away from the Opera and in the same town. At 8:40 I get into my hunter green honda with a cracked windshield and both bumpers falling off. I need new tires badly but I pretend that my procrastination in due to lack of time in my schedule. 11 minutes from work, I think. Ok, 9 mintues early isn't as early as I'd like but at least I'll make it. Artsy Fartsy is, however, located on Route 66, is one of the first settlements in the southwest and the roads are named, shaped, and function more like Boston than any other cities west of the Mississippi like Chicago, St Louis, Omaha, Denver, and Tuscon. I am headed for the relief route which bypasses all the lights. I turn on Calle de Lopez and not Lopez Lane. My tires crack on gravel and quiet onto dirt. I am headed in the right direction. Just around the bend I can see the cars racing on the bypass. Cactus, tumbleweed, maybe even a prairie dog, I deadend. I could drive over some desert flora and cut onto the road. 8:52. Damn. Denial tells me that I can still make it. At 8:57 I am a few miles down the relief route and I finally call. "Costumes this is Joanne," a soft british accent greets.
"Hi, this is Me I got lost, could you tell Boss I'm going to be a little late. I'm on the bypass and will be there in about five minutes?" On time is late, I think. As an apprentice at Artsy Fartsy Opera this was the motto. Never be late. Which I have to say in such a collaborative field is maybe the number one rule to live by. Things can't get done if you are not there. Or they just go on and get done without you incorrectly or you miss out on something spectacular.
Most assistants start a week or two before their designer as to feel their way around work, prepare information, fittings and aquaint themselves with their surroundings. In the case of the shitty economy, contracts have been shortened to absolute necessity and since I am new to this position, the designer I'm assisting starts the same day. Boss calls me right after my visit to the Will Rogers museum and the conversation is very short, "Listen, Monday is your first day, it is your designer's first day, and it is also World Famous Fashion Designer's first day. I'm not going to be able to spend too much time with you," in a calm, concerned, and mentorly way of course. "Ok, I'm a little confused about the God costumes," I say. "Well so am I, we'll figure it all out when you get here." Well at least he called to tell me, I am comforted. Artsy Fartsy Opera remains non-union at least in the technical areas by billing themselves as an educational program. They take in students and there is a lot of mentoring and portfolio reviewing. The low hourly rate also affords more time so that a higher quality of work can be produced. This is what brings wonderful artisans back, encourages them to work longer hours, and frankly puts on a damn good production. I am working with a Draper who has been coming back for 25 years.
It's 9:15 and I have finally managed to park, make my way to the Costume Shop, and tumble into work. "Hi, sorry I'm late." Boss greets me with an honest hug, "You are late," as it is frowned upon. Here is your draper, here is your craftsperson, find some new fabrics for these sketches, fill in your paperwork, here are all these people I kind of remember and like sixty-five others, writed it all down, commit it to memory, show the designer his parking spot and rehersal hall, bathroom, production office, decode the production calendar, put your inventory into Sherlock (what the hell is that?), daily schedule, draper info, fend off the girl who wants your job and will try to make you look bad, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. In short, my summer stock from last year ran into a busy fall working for a completely overloaded fashion designer masquerading as a costume designer (i.e. she donated money to the ballet so she got to design there twice) which cut into production on my many-paneled cheesecloth, chiffon, and giant veil premier, and segwayed directly into my first experiment in set design, childrens theater remount, my biggest show yet, Music Man, which I took too much noticeable time off from my full time job and pissed off the Union, made my steady job awkward, kept me from my family at the holidays for even less money, and the hags gossipping as if we lived in a town as small as my pinky.
I wish there was a name for that feeling you have when you cram so much stuff into your brain and your body that you feel stuffed, so stuffed that you can't think or eat or communicate. You can't do what you love which is communicate ideas through images and texture. Or comment critically on society because you can't make it through sentence in your book at night withough falling asleep or wake up early enough to get the news. You want to vomit out all the gossip, bullshit, and bad blood created by clashed egos and legal hurdles, fear and insecurity and just fucking make art. Gut wrenchingly and euphorically, like when I was in school and thought I would just die without time to create.
Is this the right mentality to start a job I've been waiting for for two years? But you can't help what life brings you. You can't say "Hey snap out of it, and be the happy-go-lucky, carefree, watch out world, crowd pleasing, fearless girl of 20." But what I have been able to do is give myself time and space and desert air, a long contemplative hike through a Southwest monsoon, mountainscapes at dusk, and letting the last four years of my life in Chicago sneak up into a small fold. I'm listening to all the mentors around me, listening to Verdi and Mozart and Gluck, listening to the strength of the opera stars, and learning that I'm taking home more than my $388 paycheck, and it goes directly to my heart and not citibank.