Thirty Years A Dresser
Dennis Milam Bensie
Coffeetown Press (2018)
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (6/18)
Dennis Milam Bensie takes readers on his journey as a dresser for theatrical production in his memoir, “Thirty Years A Dresser.” Starting in the 1980s, Dennis knew he wanted to be an actor, but felt in his heart he wouldn’t make it. Having made his costumes for numerous school plays, he found his calling as a dresser. Little did he realize in his excitement about being a dresser, that it would also include him being a nurse, psychologist, magician and confident. Nor did he realize that often the best-laid plans go awry, with him being blamed.
Having done plays in high school and college, I can honestly say sometimes it is just chaos when it comes to costume changes and the mix of different personalities and directors. In Chapter 7, “No Nipples,” Bensie shows just how often costume changes go wrong. He describes in a hilarious tone how in “Elf the Musical” the leading lady forgot to put on a skirt for a scene and went ice-skating in her blazer, hat, skates and her pantyhose.
I appreciated Bensie’s, “it-is-what-it-is” attitude when it came to budgets and expectations of actors and directors. Given that most budgets are slim the dresser has to make do with they have, or have to combine several costumes in order to achieve a somewhat ideal version.
Of course, we all know divas who think the world revolves around them and they can be quite a challenge even under the best circumstances. In his funny commentary on an actress who just came out of college, Bensie describes “Not Jennifer Anniston” who tends to annoy all other actors and stage personnel. She talks non-stop and is always giving out treats to other actors while being too enthusiastic and overbearing.
The author writes in such a way that you feel you are backstage with him experiencing all he is and does. He is honest, funny and sometimes cutting. “Thirty Years A Dresser” by Dennis Milam Bensie is a fresh piece to read without the usual sex, drugs and violence. I recommend this read to all who want an inside peek into what goes on backstage with our favorite theatrical shows.