During USITT in Long Beach, CA I had the opportunity to go to a workshop run by Steven Norman Lee, the costume designer for the reality television show, Dancing with the Stars (DWTS). In this workshop he explained how DWTS differs from theatre and how it is alike.

His week starts Tuesday night after the DWTS results show. As this is live television he does not know who will be around for the next week and therefore cannot start ideas/build until results are in. Tuesday night he meets with all the remaining Dancer/Celebrity Duos and they talk about ideas for the next week. At this point they only have a theme. They will get their music for the first time usually the Monday of the show. There is no time for rendering, no time for research, no time for ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. Steven Norman Lee and the Dancer/Celebrity duo’s must come up with their concept in that meeting. Also not only is he dealing with the dancer and the celebrity’s ideas, but also the producers. In regards to the design team, there is no time to collaborate. So for lighting in particular, everything is sequined and bedazzled to be seen no matter what the lighting is.

Wednesday they buy fabric. All fabric must be purchased Wednesday to start build immediately.  Every item, shirt, skirt, suit, pants, EVERYTHING is built for this show. This can mean sometimes 40 costumes for one show! And this is just the Monday show. On the Tuesday results show you can have guest dancers that need costumes, which brings an additional 20-40 costumes that need built!  Also, everything is built with stretch. This makes it easier when you only have two fittings (if you’re lucky). (…Did I mention that there is a separate costume designer for the judges? That build is also going on too…)

Thursday they start to cut the fabric and build.  Friday is first fittings. Saturday is another day devoted to build and Sunday is their last fitting. (Only 3-4 days to build!)

Monday an hour before the show the dancer’s and celebrities see their finished costumes for the first time. There is no time for error. This is a live show, very much like theatre so if something goes wrong they need to think fast and fix it. After they get into their costumes they go to hair and makeup where they do makeup and hair completely independent from the costume designer.

DWTS costuming unlike theatre is a very fast paced environment. There is no time for character analysis, research, renderings, pulling, swatching etc. You need to be able to think fast and go with it. With DWTS you are working with a range of people with different body shapes, and insecurities- you’re not just working with actors.