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Volume 24, Number 10 — October 2017

Amanda Aldridge is a triple threat

Amanda Aldridge works in the costume shop.
Amanda Aldridge works in the costume shop.

One of AAME's arts winners

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 27, 2016

Amanda Aldridge, Barter Theatre resident choreographer and costume designer, says she's always loved dance.

"My mother saw her first ballet, "Swan Lake,' when she was six-months pregnant with me, and she loved it. We havealways said that is whyI love dance so much. I started dance classes at age 3. My family moved every year or so, and ballet became my constant. It was the wayI made friends each time we moved, sinceI found people to share something I loved," she says.

Her young life was all about dance. She attended Washington School of Ballet in the ninth grade and toured the U.S. with the Memphis Civic Ballet and Princeton Ballet companies in high school. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and then moved to New York City to make her break in the world of theater. She landed her first professional job at Surflight Theatre, where she did 10 musicals in 10 weeks.

"I was fortunate to play many of the classic dance roles: Jeannie in"Brigadoon,' Eliza in"King andI,'a Kit Kat girl in"Cabaret,'and my first comic role as Gloria in"Mame,'" she said.

Her next job had far-reaching consequences; a summer stock romance turned into a lifelong partnership on and off-stage, when she met Rick Rose at Canterbury Summer Theatre.

Rose was instrumental in encouraging Aldridge to design her first show, "Picnic." While at Canterbury, she worked in the costume shop (in addition to dancing) because she could sew. "I was somewhat intimidated at the thought of designing an entire show, but I took the leap and have been hooked ever since."

After Canterbury, Rose and Aldridge moved to New York City, where Aldridge worked as a seamstress at Juilliard. Anytime a designer asked for help with a project, she said "yes," and learned from some of the industry's best designers. Her career then took her to the American Stage Festival and Merrimack Repertory Theatre, where she was resident costume designer and choreographer.

Aldridge and Rose came to Abingdon, Virginia, and Barter Theatre in 1992, where she is the resident choreographer/costume designer. In her 23rd season, she has choreographed or designed costumes for more than 160 Barter productions.

"Each show consumes your thoughts and energy and becomes your child," she says. "There are some that make you think and look at the world differently, and some that open up a new part of your brain. Being an artist in residence, for me, is most rewarding. Theater is a collaborative art form, and working with people you know and trust allows you to take risks. Barter does such a variety of work; it demands that you take on projects outside your comfort zone. This is extremely challenging and frightening and rewarding."

By blending her knowledge of choreography with her costume design skills, she gains a distinct advantage by being able to think about how an actor has to move while performing. "In my mind, when I see one, I see the other. They just really kind of work from the same part of my brain."

These dual talents become especially useful in productions such as "The Who's Tommy," where five dancers portray the chaos of Tommy's mind, or in "Xanadu," when a dancer transforms from the "40s to the "80s by simply spinning out of a skirt.

"Designing and choreographing are always fascinating. Each show takes you on a journey–researching and exploring and challenging yourself tofigureout how to tell the story and develop the characters. For me, the costumes and the choreography go hand in hand," she says.

Her greatest successes come when she pushes the boundaries of the roles of both design and choreography. This can be seen in her avant garde work in "Cabaret," "Xanadu," "The Wizard of Oz" (which had 1,648 costume pieces) and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which featured cirque-clown inspired costumes with other pieces integrated throughout the performance.

For Aldridge, costumes set an instant tone for mood, season, personality, social status, time period, position, class and rank, among other factors. Sometimes costumes take on a life of their own and become iconic, such as Dorothy's ruby slippers, Scarlett O'Hara's green velvet drapery gown and the Phantom's mask, among others.

"When we envision these costumes, the feelings we experienced when seeing these performances are clearly remembered and relived. Therefore, it is vitally important that these "characters' be brought to life with skill and passion," she says.

Last season, she became a triple threat: she designed costumes, oversaw choreography and directed "The Marvelous Wonderettes." This season, she has designed a mermaid costume, clothes for a 10-foot giant and many other fanciful costumes for "Big Fish."

Ashley Campos, who has worked with Aldridge on the stage and in the costume shop, says Aldridge has a "set of skills that make her unique in the theatrical production world. It's her life's work, and she puts her whole being into her art." She also acts as a mentor to her colleagues and young people.

"The arts are invaluable in young people's lives," Aldridge says. "The arts open your mind and heart. They give you confidence and put you in a world where people enjoy the differences in people.I have watched the children who do our workshops and who are cast in our shows. They gain an amazing sense of self-worth and become comfortable in themselves and their interactions with others. The experience helps them in anything they pursue.

"For me, my parents exposed us to lots of theater and museums and architecture and history,as we traveled and lived all over the world. I think it kept my eyes open to new experiences and people."

Aldridge says she's totally surprised to receive the AAME Arts Achievement Award. "Theater is my passion, andI do it becauseI love the challenge and the constant exploration and learning. As we work on a show, we talk a lot about the audience and fulfilling expectations. ButI am shy about the recognition. I prefer being behind the scenes."

She may prefer to be behind the scenes, but her work is front and center stage.

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