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Jessica Hodgkinson knew from an early age that she wanted to make tutus. Now she is Head of Wardrobe at Bangarra.


What does a head of wardrobe do?

At Bangarra, the head of wardrobe covers all aspect of costuming: supervising the build/refurbishment of repertoire, building costumes, dressing and maintaining the shows during performance season, touring the country and telling stories with the company. 

What drew you to working with costumes?

I’ve been sewing since I was twelve. My Mum and I were subscribers to the Australian Ballet, and I was exposed to the exquisite costumes of the company and their co-productions, including Bangarra. I was lucky to experience many times the collective gasp that the audience takes when a dancer steps on stage in a beautiful tutu. That feeling and attending “Behind Ballet” talks with tutus on display pushed me to research costume construction techniques and history further. Interning with workrooms solidified that I wanted to make costumes as my career.

You moved from Sydney to study at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Any reason for that choice of institution?

WAAPA has such a large dance program and an affiliation with the West Australian Ballet, hence the costume students create the majority of costumes for the dance students. Most importantly, the costume students learn how to make tutus. There are other costume courses aside from WAAPA, but the large dancewear component was the major draw for me.

Is it a competitive field?

It can be. Certain companies have specific criteria for the role, however there are always new faces joining wardrobe departments.
I’ve found that costumers are more excited than disappointed when colleagues are promoted or leave for new positions.

You worked as a dresser for many musicals until you were appointed as Head of Wardrobe for Six the Musical. Is that the usual career progression in your field?

It is. Most spend a few years as a dresser and then can be promoted to a deputy head or head of wardrobe. However there are many branches to follow from dressing: in musicals or working for smaller companies like Bangarra, supervising and coordinating the build of shows, making costumes full-time in a workroom, or moving into the film industry.

What are your usual work hours?

Pre-production is 9-5, five days a week. Performance seasons vary between 5/6 days, but total around 55-60 hours a week. 

What has been your most challenging role/wardrobe?

Joining Bangarra was challenging! I joined midway through pre-production of the biggest show the company has ever done. There was a lot to learn very quickly, and the fact that I’m the only full-time member of wardrobe means there’s a lot more responsibility. Also learning the culture of the company and how it informs everything we do. The company is all about educating, learning and collaborating, which made it easier.

Any (near) disasters you would like to share?

I was working on Hamilton in Sydney, dressing Hamilton, Jason Arrow. One of the cuffs of his jacket was hanging on by a few stitches. I was fortunate that he changed into a different jacket for about 10 minutes before he came offstage to change back into the broken jacket. It wasn’t the neatest of sewing to get that cuff back on!

You have been with Bangarra now since November, 2021. How different is this role from your previous?

I have more responsibilities at Bangarra: getting the designs from page to stage, building rapport with the dancers and the production crew and following cultural rules and practice of the country the work is tied to (such as using the correct feathers and not constructing garments that can only be made by men).

Bangarra is a small company, and we help each other when we can. Previous shows I’ve just worked with the actors and reported to the head of department; it was still collaborative to make the show happen, but you stayed on your own path and did your job.

So, no tutus!?

I’m still sewing them slowly in my downtime but hope to make them professionally one day. I love the work I’m doing at Bangarra and focusing on that.

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