Adele Miskie is the dresser for Lauren Ambrose, the Eliza Doolittle of My Fair Lady. In general terms that means that Miskie, who is known familiarly as Del, helps Ambrose in and out of her costumes. But as Miskie made clear to me the other day backstage, her role is more encompassing than wardrobe. “It’s my job to make sure that the actor has as comfortable a performance as possible.”
As evidence, Miskie shows me the apron she wears throughout a show. Among its contents: tissues, lozenges, Band-aids, Advil, makeup, safety pins, and a bite light. She also carries bottled water to slake dehydration and throughout the show gets warmer liquid for the hot tea that Ambrose likes to sip. “I’m a Capricorn,” Miskie says. “Which means that I’m a perfectionist.”
Miskie gave me a sense of her workday. “After I arrive I make sure that the dressing room is prepared. I tidy things, make sure the vaporizer and water bottles are filled. I get the room set for the actor.” Once the curtain comes down, Miskie does some steaming and polishing and makes sure relevant items are ready for the next day’s laundry.
If I were completely mad I would ask to observe what Miskie does during the performance itself. Mad not only because I lack the relevant union card but because I would be totally in the way. Thus I asked Miskie to give me a vicarious sense of her rapid pace during show time.
“Lauren has 11 costume changes,” Miskie said, “so things never slacken. She wears a lot of detailed, elegant costumes so the changes aren’t simple.” There isn’t time to make the majority of the changes back in the dressing room. Many of them take place in booths stage left or stage right, both of which Miskie showed me. These areas are concealed by dark curtains and seemed small until Miskie showed me the closet in which one of the most complex changes takes place. It is part of the giant Higgins-study unit and gives new meaning to the word “cramped.” “Since it’s such a tight squeeze we have to be very precise in how we go about things,” Miskie said.
As a dresser, Miskie has to be resourceful. So it’s helpful that her background is wide-ranging. “I grew up in Pennsylvania, and majored in horticulture at Penn State. I then got a master’s in counseling education at West Chester University. I worked as a school guidance counselor for 11 years.”
If it’s a slight stretch to see how Miskie’s horticultural background relates to her current profession (except perhaps to the fact that Eliza is a flower girl) it’s easier to see how the counseling experience applies. “As a dresser you have a very intimate relationship with the performer. Not intimate in any romantic sense but in the sense of physical proximity and in the need to provide psychological support.”
Having always loved the arts and feeling burned out by her guidance-counselor career, Miskie was ready to make the crossover to being a dresser. Among her Broadway credits are Waitress and Motown and a revival of 42nd Street. The latter she said, “is probably the biggest show I’ve done in terms of wardrobe. There were 56 in the cast and around 400 costume pieces.”
Prior to My Fair Lady, Miskie worked at LCT as a dresser on Macbeth and The King and I. “The backstage environment is wonderful and there’s good space to work in,” she said. She pointed to the small table and chair outside Ambrose’s dressing room that is her primary workstation. “At older Broadway houses there’s rarely room in the hallways backstage for a table. You may have a place to sit and that’s about it. I love working at this theater.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com