Backstage at San Francisco Opera > October 2011 > Bigger. Blonder. Sadder.
Bigger. Blonder. Sadder.
I am insufficiently blonde. Sigh. Yes, having blondish hair was one of the main reasons I was wrangled into playing the Super Bride in Heart of a Soldier in the first place. But after our first dress rehearsal, the artistic team realized that with my natural hair curled and coiffed into a style of the era, I looked more like a hippie Flower Child bride. Not, unfortunately, like a big-haired girl from the Lone Star state. Which is what I am supposed to be.
These are the sorts of things you can’t learn until you’re in costume. And sadly we’ve learned that the hair that the Lord hath given me is just not capable of reaching the height and color that this character needs to really convey big, blonde, Dallas. So now I am wearing a wig that would make a Texas woman proud, along with a shade of eye shadow so blue I actually thought it was left over from last year’s Aida. And I rather love it. Because even though I look slightly ridiculous, I don’t look a bit like me. And for someone who isn’t an actress by training, any little thing that can make me feel more like a character and less like myself is a good thing.
Prior to performances, our fantastic, patient, and kind choreographer Larry Pech tells us once again about the HD cameras that San Francisco Opera uses for Opera Vision and film capture. He gently reminds us that we need to keep these cameras in mind when we are on stage. Which translates to: the camera may zoom in you, so you best be ready.
I’ve not been too fazed by this until I realize that I am supposed to (attempt to) cry onstage, and this is most likely when the cameras will zoom in on me. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that me crying is not a pretty sight. In fact, it’s something I rarely do in the company of others, let alone in front of thousands of people. In high definition. Cue the anxiety once again.
I’m reminded of a great episode of 30 Rock in which HD cameras are introduced to the TGS set for the first time. Liz (Tina Fey) walks in front of the HD camera and she instantly turns into a weathered old crony. Jack (Alec Baldwin) then walks in front of the HD camera and magically looks younger and even more handsome. Finally, Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer) walks in front of the HD camera, and he is transformed into a dancing muppet. I guess the best I can hope for is a muppet. [Above: Melanie Birch, hair stylist]
If I do look convincing onstage as a big ol’ blonde from Dallas, it is because of the amazing team of people who work to bring the Super Bride to life. Remember that it takes all of these people just to create the look for a tiny role like mine. And also to ensure that I don’t look like a muppet. I’d like to acknowledge a few of these folks and their tremendous talent:
Melanie Birch, Hair Stylist. Melanie puts my real hair in pin curls before every performance so that they can put the wig on comfortably over my hair. She’s also responsible for fluffing up the wig to its full Texas glory, and ensures that the veil is placed properly (and securely) on the wig. She also helps me remove the wig and veil after each performance.
Toby Mayer, Makeup Artist. Toby has really managed to channel the early 1970s with my makeup: boldly blue eye shadow, liquid liner drawn in the shape of a cat-eye, and pale pink lips. She makes sure that operagoers in the last row of the Balcony can see that eye shadow – even without Opera Vision.  [Above: Toby Mayer, makeup artist]
Laurie Cowden and Barbara Nicholas, Dressers. Once I’ve gone and gotten my eyes boldly blue and my wig securely on, Laurie and Barbara dress me in all my wedding finery and secure each and every hook-and-eye enclosure (there are a few). They then help me get out of dress (without getting any makeup on it) once the performance is done.
In addition to these wonderful women, there is the Wig department, who created and styled my wig; the fine tailors and cutters in the Costume Shop, who made the wedding dress specifically for me; Paula Wheeler, our resident milliner, who made the veil and crafted the delicate wreath of flowers that encircles my head; Jersey McDermott, our Craft Artisan, who crafted the look of my wedding ring and earrings; and the Laundry team, who ensure that my costume and every costume is cleaned before the next performance. You can see it really takes an army (no pun intended) to bring each and every character to life.
As I have been chronicling my awkward adventures as the Super Bride, I’ve often taken a light-hearted approach. But I don’t want to minimize how much this opera means to me. Heart of a Soldier has had a profound impact on my life. It would take a whole other blog post just to explain the many reasons why it has impacted me the way it has. I feel humbled and honored to have had the tiniest involvement in it. And I am so proud that I work for a Company that would take the risk of bringing this story to life. Because let’s face it – putting on a world-premiere opera is an expensive endeavor, and it is a financial risk for a Company. But I think there are no better hands that could be guiding this project than David Gockley’s. And no, he’s not paying me to say that. Well, technically he pays my salary, but you know what I mean. [Above: Laurie Cowden and Barbara Nicholas, dressers]
I sincerely hope that Heart of a Soldier was as an emotionally moving experience for you as it has been for me.
Posted: 10/4/2011 2:56:00 PM by Kristen Jones (Senior Leadership Gifts Officer & Super Bride, Heart of a Soldier)
Filed under: costumes, HeartOfASoldier, supernumerary


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


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