3 Organizing Lessons Found in a Theatrical Quick Change

Above is Kelli O'Hara's quick change during the King & I performance in the 2015 TONY Awards last weekend. It is the perfect example of organization and efficiency.

And it all happens in 47 seconds.

When I posted this video on Facebook one commenter mentioned how calm everyone was. In a quick change you must be calm. Freaking out only makes it worse and - much worse - if you freak out the audience will hear you.

Talk about killing the magic.

Hamlet pre-show - Upperclass Citizens
Hamlet pre-show - Upperclass Citizens

Recently I played 4 roles in Fort Worth Opera's production of Hamlet at Bass Hall. In it, I had my own quick change (although costumers and dressers will say in the world of the quick change, this was a TON of time.) I had under 7 minutes to go from this: to this:

Hamlet - Dog Queen and Cool Cat
Hamlet - Dog Queen and Cool Cat

Backstage offers us many organizing lessons. (Some of which I've discussed here.) What can we learn from a theatrical quick change?

Lesson 1: First and foremost - stay focused and calm.

Freaking out gets you NOWHERE. In a quick change it's the difference between going out on stage fully costumed or in just your pantaloons, corset and hoop. When facing clutter this is the difference between analysis paralysis and getting it done. If you're facing the clutter and find yourself freaking out:

  1. Breathe. Our breath is the easiest and quickest tool in the toolbox to actively relax our senses. After all, you couldn't live without it! And when we are tense, anxious, or in whatever state that the freak-out affects you, the breath is always the first thing to be constricted. Actively breathe as deeply and as slowly as you can.
  2. Make two brain dump lists: one containing everything you need to do and one that lists all of your feelings, fears, and reasons for the freak out. Now take the feelings/fears/freakout list and set it on fire. (Safely of course.) With the remaining list, order it by priority. Then start doing highest priority things first.
  3. Work through the list one at a time to get things done. We often try to do multiple things at once. We've been trained to believe that multi-tasking is awesome. But here's the thing - no matter what, your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So while you may be doing multiple things at once, your brain is only focusing on one thing at a time whether you like it or not. This is why the list is in priority order. Get the most important things done, then the next, then the next. Re-write and re-order as necessary. Mainly, give yourself a fighting chance and consciously only focus on one thing at a time as you work through this list.

Lesson 2: Set things up how you need them to function.

As you'll notice in this video, the second dress is set up in such a way that all Ms. O'Hara has to do is step in and pull up the skirt and hoop. Then she has a dresser with top on standby to slide on at just the right moment. In my quick change, my skirt was draped over the chair I sat on as I removed my shoes and a layer of hose. Next to the chair was my next  pair of shoes which I put on and then stepped into the hoop which was in front of the chair. The hoop skirt was fastened and then that skirt was lowered over my head. In an organized home, this means things function how you need them to - not how Martha, or your mother, or your freakishly organized friend, or Pinterest tells you to do it. If something doesn't work for you, it will make it all the more difficult to maintain. Place things where they work best for you. If it's unconventional, who cares? It's your quick change. It's your house.

Lesson 3: Get - and accept - help if you need it.

Most quick changes are impossible to pull off by yourself. I've been in less professional settings where I've had to do quick changes alone and let me tell you, it SUCKS! In this video Ms. O'Hara has 4 dressers helping her. In Hamlet I had 2 dressers and a wig guru. We each have our role in the quick change choreography. It works because we all stick to our parts and, as the actor, we allow the help. When we fight them, it doesn't work.

If you're feeling overwhelmed or frustrated and facing that analysis paralysis in trying to deal with your clutter, get help be it from a friend or a professional. In addition, ACCEPT the help. As hard as it can be to ask for help, sometimes we still have a hard time letting go and accepting the help. I've worked with quite a few people who have tried to fight me or veer off course. Mind you, I refuse to fight with clients but sometimes they yell at me because I happen to be there in the time of tension and frustration. Once they chill out (Lesson 1) and let me guide the process, they find that it works quicker and easier.

Directions from a pro may often feel counter-intuitive to what you've been doing but remember: What you've been doing isn't working. That's why you've brought in a professional. It can be hard to get and accept help, especially if you've been going it alone or hiding your circumstances for a long time. But I promise that if you allow yourself to feel supported, it will make your process so much easier and quicker.

So when you're feeling freaked out and aren't sure what you're going to do with your home, remember the three lessons from a theatrical quick change: 1)Stay focused and calm. 2) Set things up exactly how you need them to function at your best. And 3) Ask for and accept help if you need it.

Before you know it, you'll have the fabulously organized home that supports your needs and life!

Want some personalized attention or are you ready to get some help? Contact me or buy "Fabulous Foothold to Organization: a guide for getting started when you don't know where to start," today!

Fort Worth Opera's Hamlet performed at Bass Hall, May 2015. Photo credit: Paul Mosely via Star Telegram
Fort Worth Opera's Hamlet performed at Bass Hall, May 2015. Photo credit: Paul Mosely via Star Telegram