Wardrobe mistress finds working behind the scenes suits her

Melissa Rao loves everything about the theater, and that includes some of the less glamorous work, s

Melissa Rao loves everything about the theater, and that includes some of the less glamorous work, such as helping the stars in and out of their costumes.

“Sometimes it’s easier to find work behind the scenes,” said Rao, who is spending her summer as wardrobe mistress at Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham. “I’m getting some great experience here at Mac-Haydn. I do want to perform again and I’m going to do more auditions in the fall. But I love the whole process of theater, and watching it go from a table read to a full production in front of the audience. Being a part of that is a lot of fun.”

A 2007 Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake alum and a 2012 Siena graduate, Rao has already worked on “The Fantasticks,” “9 to 5: The Musical,” and “La Cage aux Folles” at Mac-Haydn this summer, and is busy preparing for today’s opening of “Singin’ in the Rain.” Patrick Heffernan plays Don Lockwood, the role made famous by Gene Kelly in the MGM movie, and has already performed as El Gallo in “The Fantasticks” and Mr. Hart in “9 to 5.” Heather Farney plays Kathy Eldon, the part performed by Debbie Reynolds in the movie. Other cast members include Michael Coale Grey and Caitlyn Wilyato.

’Singin in the Rain’

WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham

WHEN: Opens 2 p.m. today and runs through July 21; performance times vary

HOW MUCH: $30-$28

MORE INFO: 392-9292, www.machaydntheatre.org

“In high school we did ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ and we had that song right before intermission,” said Rao, referring to the iconic number when the main character, Lockwood, performs the title song. “We used blow dryers to dry the suit between acts. Here, we’re going to use another suit. We do have more than one suit for Don Lockwood.”

As you might think, the costume department at Mac-Haydn is a pretty extensive collection.

“They have quite a bit of show stock, and most of the time we can just look in the selection and find something we need,” said Rao. “Every now and then you have to go out and find a few new things, depending on the shows you’re doing, but most of the time anything we need is already here.”

Rao first got involved in the theater in middle school at BH-BL when she joined the stage crew for a production of “Guys and Dolls.”

“I helped build the set, and helped paint it, and I really have to credit my French teacher, Suzanne Rayome, and her husband, John, who worked as the stage manager,” said Rao. “They did a lot with the drama club and were so supportive of everyone.”

Rao remained involved in all aspects of the theater throughout high school and college, and performed in “Hamlet” at Siena and served an internship with the Saratoga Shakespeare Company during the summer of 2011.

“We helped build the sets and we acted in the ensemble for Saratoga Shakespeare, which earned me some points toward my equity card, which is really cool,” said Rao. “My final project at Siena was to stage manage a show, and because of that I did manage a professional show at Walking the Dog Theatre in Chatham. That was a lot of fun, and I’d like to do it again.”

Rao came to Mac-Haydn for the first time last summer and started working about halfway into the season.

“I’m really excited to be back here,” she said, “and I know I’m walking into an already well-oiled machine. I don’t have to design anything or make anything. But I’m here at every show making sure the costume changes go smoothly, and if I have to do any little repairs I can handle it. I was in the 4-H for 10 years and I’ve done some sewing. I’m not the greatest sewer in the world, but my grandmother taught me enough of those skills to help me out here.”

A Schenectady native whose family moved to Burnt Hills when she was in seventh grade, Rao is also working at a Stewart’s Shop in Round Lake part-time to help pay off her college loans.

“We got to do a lot of different things at Siena,” said Rao, whose degree is in the creative arts. “We learned about lighting, we worked as a carpenter, and we acted.”

As for the future, Rao isn’t exactly sure just yet what she’s going to do.

“A friend and I want to start a monologue club geared toward helping actors and our friends to prepare audition material and give them feedback,” she said. “Doing things like that would be fun. I have no big plans right now, other than working a lot to pay off my college loans and getting ready to maybe perform again somewhere in the fall. What I’d like to do is travel more and do some kind of theater work.”

She’d also love to perform in a musical, although she does have a few obstacles in her way.

“I grew up singing in the church choir, but I really don’t sing in front of people, ever,” said Rao, laughing. “But I do love musicals, and I love how Mac-Haydn uses this space. The theater-in-the-round is a very interesting concept, and it’s wonderful what they do here.”

After “Singin’ in the Rain” finishes up, Rao will be getting ready for the July 25 opening of “Les Miserables.” Also on the schedule this summer at Mac-Haydn are “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (Aug. 8-18), “Gypsy” (Aug. 22-Sept. 1) and “All Shook Up” (Sept. 6-15).

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment

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