As a 42 year old chubby woman who markets the arts, it’s maybe not surprising my choice in clothing that I feel is suitable for the theatre has changed over the years. Coming from the symphony world, patrons would be bathed in perfume, fresh make-up, styled hair, and suits and heels even for mid-week performances and I would bring my best dresses to work to change in the bathroom before heading out to my concert duty. Even for the famous Thursday matinees the Victoria Symphony presented, the attendees would be dressed very snappily.
I was searching for an archival photo today in some electronic files, and unexpectedly came across a photo of myself dressed at a gala event. I was working and expected to put in some significant physical labour that evening, and I had just started my new job 2 weeks before, following a year-long maternity leave. I remember I didn’t have much money, but I bought a matching linen suit to try and have something comfortable to work in that would possibly blend in among the furs and gowns. Early in the evening a volunteer asked when I was expecting and I was horrified. I was so embarrassed and said that I had ‘just had a baby’ (13 months before). I gave away that blazer the next week.
I realized looking around the theatre lobby that evening, that the perception of what is appropriate to wear or not to wear to the theatre could really be a stumbling block for some people, as I know I sure felt like I would rather be sitting during the show in my comfy pants instead of heels and my wrinkly linen skirt. Later that year, we had some extra inventory for a children’s show and we invited some families through a local service organization to attend. One of the parents thanked me for the tickets and confided that she had never come to the theatre before because she didn’t know what clothing to wear. I told her that she could always wear anything that made her comfortable, but realized how sad that she felt that way.
But, perception versus reality. In order to promote an experience that encourages anyone to feel welcome, we need to program content that encourages diverse audiences, offer price points that increase access, and make everyone feel equally welcome regardless of how they are dressed. The first time I presented a Classic Albums Live rock show, there were people wearing Harley leather jackets, jeans, and double fisting beers after smoke breaks in the back alley. At the same concert there were well dressed couples, groups of girlfriends enjoying some wine and some middle-aged fathers with their teenage sons. All of them felt able to wear what they wanted and collectively rock out to some nostalgic tunes. I couldn’t have been more proud.
I felt so terrible after that evening more than 10 years ago, but I look at that photo today and see my skin with fewer crow’s feet, less grey hair, and my happy smile and remember how excited I was to start work at that beautiful performing arts facility. I should not have been so hard on myself. I also think of the outfits at that fancy evening, and what types of clothing I now see at the shows we present regularly, and I am glad that there is now a wide range of people, sizes, ages, and styles all sitting together sharing the same thing – their love for the performance.
Check out a related article about women wearing pants on stage here.