Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Different Definition of “Dressing for Success”

SCR's Wardrobe Supervisor Bert Henert

Wardrobe Supervisor: In charge of all costumes once they leave the Costume Shop (where costumes are built) and move to the performance space (Segerstrom or Julianne Argyros stages, and as needed, the Nicholas Studio). Oversees work done by any costume staff on shows to ensure that costumes are ironed, pressed, cleaned and repaired. Checks in on each show to confirm that everything related to costumes is going well. Helps actors with quick changes in general, getting into and out of costumes.

Dresser: Works on a specific show, doing specific jobs, such as costume maintenance, ironing, or steaming.
Bert Henert is backstage at South Coast Repertory, waiting for Beth Henley’s Abundance to start. He’s dressed in black, with a full-length apron that has multiple pockets. The apron is adorned with an array of items including safety pins, two small flashlights, bobby pins, a tape measure, pens, a small notepad, small scissors, tissues, bandages, zipper wax, an eyeglass repair kit, glass cleaning cloths, shoe horn, tweezers, sewing needles, thread and hand sanitizer.

He is ready for anything in his role as SCR’s wardrobe supervisor, which includes helping actors with costume changes during performances. Everything needs to run smoothly, whether a costume change takes five minutes or needs to happen in 15 seconds.

But Henert’s job goes beyond those backstage changes during a show. Once costumes have been built in SCR’s Costume Shop, the pieces move to one of the theatre’s performances spaces (in the case of Abundance, on the Segerstrom Stage), where Henert manages them.

Angela Balogh Calin designed the period costumes for Henley’s American West tale of two mail-order brides in the 19th century. Included are frock coats, working clothes, bowler hats, bonnets, fancy dresses, bustles, corsets and petticoats, and on each piece, an array of fine details—both seen and hidden.

Henert stresses that costumes are not clothing—they don’t come off a store rack ready to be worn by an actor. Even costumes for contemporary plays have special treatment or elements to ensure that they will meet the needs of the production. For example, fabric may be painted or specially dyed or have other finishing or quick-change elements built in. And costumes need to withstand wear and tear from up to three-dozen performances. Day-to-day, costumes are maintained through cleaning, maintenance and repairs. The gowns in Abundance need special attention since they may not necessarily be wash-and-wear.

Paige Lindsey White and Daniel Reichert in Abundance.
Then, it’s on to the matter of changing costumes during a performance. It takes a lot of pre-planning and, once rehearsals start on stage, coordination between the Costume Shop, stage management and Henert to ensure that this element of the production goes smoothly.

“The designers and our Costume Shop find the best way to be true to the look of the period, but to hide the use of modern elements like zippers or snaps, which are much faster to use than buttons,” he says.

The backstage wardrobe area includes a number of things to help the actors. A rolling rack, baskets, chairs and shelves help him prepare things for easy access. Lots of shelves in this case because Abundance has numerous shoes and hats. A standing mirror is one last element so that actors can do a quick check before returning to the stage.


What are you watching now?
“‘Homeland’ and ‘Nurse Jackie.’ These are two shows that I’ve been meaning to watch and I’m a huge Eve Best fan!” Next up for him to watch: “The Affair.”

What do you do outside of theatre?
“I garden. I like working with plants and being outdoors. I’m trying to get into long-distance hiking nad have a goal to hike the John Muir Trail one day.”

What’s your beverage of choice?
“Tea, herbal or black iced teas. Right now, I’m sipping on a blood-orange black iced tea. It’s great!”
Henert’s non-performance-time work space includes washing machines and dryers, an ironing board with a built in steamer and vacuum, a sewing machine and lots of extra supplies. For him, this command center is right where he wants to be—he thrives on the creativity, problem-solving, organization and imagination—in short, the theatre.

Henert grew up in Wisconsin and was drawn to theatre at an early age when he took acting classes and worked in productions at Children’s Theatre of Madison. He still remembers his first production: Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding. (“Right? For kids!” Henert chuckles. “But it was fun and we were involved in the whole backstage process, helping out and getting to see everything.”)

He studied theatre and costume design at the University of Southern California and came to SCR seven seasons ago. He loves the artistry and inventiveness that is woven into the dramatic arts.

“I love how costumes help create a character,” he says. “And there is so much fabric to play with!”

SCR is home for Henert. He enjoys working with the many actors, directors, designers, stage managers and others, including the theatre’s regular staff.

“We do such great work here and it’s a great place to learn and to be a part of,” he says.

And the solution to the 15-second costume change? The actor wears two costumes—taking off the outer garment, revealing the costume underneath for the next scene Presto, change-o—it’s the magic of theatre.

Learn more about Abundance and buy tickets.
Photos by Ben Horak.


  1. Always great to hear from people who are normally "behind the scenes" like this. Costuming can really add so much to a character!

  2. Great article and explanation. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make a production go smoothly. Bert is awesome!!!!!

  3. Go Bert! The theatre community loves their talented behind-the-scenes soldiers. <3

  4. Bert is one of the most talented Wardrobe Department Managers I have had the fortune to work with. SCR is lucky to have him.

  5. Each year for my appearance in A CHRISTMAS CAROL, I get wheeled offstage in a coffin, step out of it, put on a tangle of chains, reapply my make up and adjust my wig (I was laying in a coffin remember?). I could not do any of this if it weren't for the calm and steady guidance of Bert Henert. He's our unsung Hero!