Earlier this year, I got my first (and possibly only) modeling opportunity. Many of you have already seen the pictures on Facebook. Now, here's the story behind my runway walk in an 18th Century British military uniform.
I’m sitting in a hallway at the audition venue, outside what’s labeled the “Great Room.” Half a dozen modeling hopefuls surround me -- young ladies and one young man. They are all staring into their smartphones, all wearing black. I plan to be wearing red.
My journey down the runway will either begin here or end here. I’m hearing dance-club music pump out of the Great Room as the audition for the group ahead of us rolls on. Smatterings of applause interrupt the beat. From the doorway outside, I can’t see who’s walking.
So far, I have rushed here after church on Palm Sunday and completed some rudimentary paperwork, which included providing my social media account handles and my “real age.” When it’s prefaced like that, I know it’s there because people have tried to fake it. Perhaps they said “29 and holding.” In my case, I could have said “247” given what I’m going to be wearing.
“Do you have a head shot?” one attendant asked.
“No,” I said, feeling I had just earned strike one.
But so far, it didn’t seem to matter.
“Fifty-one through sixty, this way!” an assistant calls out. That’s me at the end of the line, number 60.
She leads us into the Great Room and asks us to sit down in order in some chairs next to a practice runway to the side of us. At the end of the runway sits a committee of evaluators or designers or both. I’m not sure. All I know is that I have to make it past them to make it to the stage.
A young man in a leopard-print jacket stands up and goes through the procedure. “Bring your number up to us, we will put some music on, and you will walk to the end of the runway and back. Look at the clock on the wall. Don’t look at us.”
Those who make the cut in my group will then be directed to sit on the other side of the room, where they will meet with a designer who will chose them to strut their stuff. It feels like a cross between America’s Next Top Model and The Voice.
Across from me, in that set of chairs where I hope to end up, is a girl who can’t be more than 15, and she is dolled up to look like she’s 28. It’s almost heartbreaking to see somebody prematurely age a person like that.
The first hopeful steps up to the runway and starts to walk.
“Slower, slow down,” says the young man.
It’s tempting to want to walk to the beat, which has all the verve of a New York City fashion event.
The next hopeful gets up. She’s a lady who looks in her tweens, but she’s having to show off a sensibility and style of someone double her age. Again, she’s told to slow down.
My strategy formulates from what I see. I’m watching every step they take, every move they make, looking for fine points and errors. I wonder to myself, “When I reach the end of the runway, should I act like I’m pulling a sword?”
About six months ago, a folk-dancer friend of mine made your servant an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“Can I make you a red coat?”
Not just any red coat, but a 1700’s British infantry uniform coat -- a Redcoat’s red coat. She was in a sewing class at Pima Community College, and she had an idea for a project. But she needed somebody to wear and enjoy it. She didn’t have to ask me twice.
She drew her inspiration from Outlander’s Black Jack, using a coat pattern with black facings and black turnouts. When she showed it to me, however, I decided I wanted a slightly different look: white facings and white turnouts with silver button trim, more like a British regular than a British officer. I later learned that design was more like a British officer. We both agreed on the modifications, and she set to work.
My friend brought the completed coat to me just before Christmas, and I instantly fell in love with it. She had made it with joy and precision, and it radiated dignity and pride. I didn’t think I would wear it on the battlefield, but I knew I wanted to wear it for a fancy ball or two… or three or four or more. I wore it for a Christmas dinner with Princess Sherri. I wore it to a Epiphany ball in California with a kilt, portraying a Black Watch highlander. It drew many an eye.
Some weeks later, I got another offer. Did I want to model it for a show at the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson? She didn’t have to ask me twice.
I had no modeling experience whatsoever. I didn’t have a glamor headshot. I had my stint in the Tanque Verde Swap Meet commercials on my resume (which I didn’t have to submit). But I was assured I had a sponsor -- the sewing class teacher -- who would be leading me through it all.
Nothing seems certain as I step up onto that practice runway, wearing my redcoat over a dark blue t-shirt, long black shorts and knee-high socks. I at least look a little bit Colonial. I’m not walking quite to the beat, but I am looking at the clock as directed. Part of me feels lost, that dreadful moment of “What am I doing here, and why am I doing it?” Should I smile more? Or should I be radiating the aura of a focused British regular who would say, according to Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ours is not to reason why, ours but to do and die.” I forget about pulling that air sword. I walk, I turn, and I walk back with a resolute sense of purpose, if not some sense of style. Applause greets me as I step off.
“You’re all good!” our commander directs, inviting us to sit on that other side of the room.
I have passed the audition. And now my sponsor steps up to claim me.
“I knew it was you when I recognized that red coat!”
We exchange information and pleasantries and how we got to this point. The next step will come next month, when I will step out onto that runway for real at the Fox.
“Be prepared for a long day,” my sponsor warns.
I’m ready. “How many people get to be supermodel for one evening?”
It’s not a good sign when the automated parking lot system won’t print out your windshield ticket even though you’ve fed it a credit card. I had to feed it again to get what I needed, and I hoped I didn’t get charged twice. Never do business with anything that bakes out in the sun.
I’ve made it to the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson promptly before noon as requested. I’m already wearing most of what I’ll need for tonight, having attended a Sons of the American Revolution meeting in Casa Grande as part of the color guard. I just have to change the coat.
Just beyond the doors of the restored historic entertainment palace, a crush of models is gathered around the front tables as handlers check them in, check them off the list and assign them numbers.
“Some of you will be in different scenes,” our coordinator explains, the same one who told us to look at the clock and not the crowd during the tryouts last month. “We had to split some groups.”
I’m directed downstairs to the dressing room for Scene 2. As I pass down the outer aisle of the auditorium, I notice the gigantic runway for the first time.
Downstairs, I take a seat while I wait for the crew from Gadabout to do my makeup and hair. I know what I want. I think.
“I was thinking sort of Paul Revere,” my stylist explains.
He wasn’t a Redcoat, but okay. I have ideas too.
“I’m thinking rosy cheeks,” I suggest. “Like I just stepped out of a painting. That fop look.”
Does she even know what I mean by “fop?”
She puts on base. That’s when I come up with another suggestion.
“Can you get rid of the bags under my eyes?”
I hate how time and years of squinting without wearing sunglasses has put the age into my peepers. She goes right to work on them, softening the lines.
“Do you want Chapstick?”
I don’t wear it, but I figure it’s a good idea. I go with it, and then my stylist finds she can’t find the Chapstick. She quickly finds a substitute for my lips. Then it’s time to put the rose in my cheeks.
“I don’t want to do too much,” she explains, as she gradually works it in. “Is that enough?”
I can barely see it in the mirror. “A little more.”
She works in some more rouge, but I’m having trouble spotting the effects, even in the bright lights of the makeup mirror. I want to be cautious, though.
“We can split the difference between total fop and nothing.”
After a few coats, I’m satisfied, even though I can’t see much change in my cheeks. I figure I should quit while I’m ahead. It’s not the end; another stylist insists that I get a dab of mascara on my eyelashes. Fine, but I’m not Tammy Faye.
When I hold it up to my phone for a selfie, I find the team nailed it.
Another stylist sprays down my hair and steamrolls it with the can. I think about asking for curls on both sides, but I decide to keep it simple. It will keep my frizzy head together, but that spray turns my fly-away strands into straw. Now I remember why I hate hairspray.
We are sent upstairs to sit and wait and begin the runway walkthroughs.
Walking a runway doesn’t require a lot of training, just a sense of timing and purpose. You wait just out of sight behind the scenery, walk into the opening when the stagehand cues you, and wait for the model on stage walking back to pass by the row of speakers along the edges. Then you walk.
House dance music is throbbing. It’s a nice beat, four on the floor, and it’s easy to walk to.
“Is the music easy to walk to?” our coordinator asks at one point, making sure our DJ isn’t trying to take artistic liberties too far.
When you reach the edge, halt.
“One-two-three,” our stagehand reminds us, giving us a mental count we can use. I think it should be more like “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand.” It’s there for the PCC photographers and the press and whoever to take pictures. I turn to one side and then another, showing off the Redcoat. I’m not overdoing it. I don’t want to overdo it. I’m sticking to the fundamentals. I turn and walk off. Rehearsal completed.
One of my co-models, who has done this before, is gladly giving us style points on how to pivot at the end of the runway.
“Yeah, work it!” I say.
Everybody is encouraging each other as we go through this walkthrough and then another. This is not a competition. This is not the fashion police. This is a team coming together to make something beautiful. I like playing on this team.
At least twenty scenes are part of this show, hyphenated by some talking, I’m told. Each scene has seven to eight models and often more. Many in this cast are playing multiple roles, meaning as soon as they get done with one scene, they’re dashing down to the dressing rooms to change into a look for something still to come.
I wish lunch was coming. Those in charge have told me to bring a snack, but the impracticality of doing so given my dash from Casa Grande has ruled that out. I see a box of pizza and several plates of sandwiches go down the aisle towards the dressing rooms. Somebody has ordered in.
I need water. The weskit on my chest is holding me in like a corset and making me uncomfortable. I must get up and move, no matter what, at least to find the Necessary, as we would call it in the 18th Century.
Popping back into the lobby, the ingredients for the evening are coming together. Electronic wands for security are stacked up on a table. The prizes for the silent auction are in place with sign-up forms.
I pop down a staircase, thinking it will lead to a restroom somewhere. It leads me right into an oasis: tables adorned with sandwich trays and boxes of pizza in a corner, waiting to be devoured. Is it for us, or is it for some VIP’s who are paying extra for some mingle time before the show? I don’t know, and right now I don’t care. I’m part of the talent, I’m hungry, and I see other people have already started pillaging the loot. I help myself to a slice and a sandwich and wash it down with one of those half-bottles of water. Then I go back for seconds. And thirds.
I sit in the audience and watch the other groups take the runway, showing off formal wear, riffs on jeans and alien-inspired t-shirts -- one of which says “Abduct Me.” Family time comes midway through the show where moms and dads pair up with sons and daughters on the stage for matching looks. Pajamas are making an appearance. I’m falling asleep in my chair.
The lighting crew is getting things together, adjusting the narrow can lights so they hit the disco balls hovering above us. An operator swings the Vari*Lites and tries out a few positions. I would love it if those rotatable spots converge on us while we’re on the runway, like something out of a Genesis concert.
We have one more walkthrough to get through at 5pm. I hope I can keep myself awake. Too much pizza.
I have taken several compliments on the Redcoat, and with a courtly bow, I have given credit to Lady Nancy for sewing it, and to my sponsor at PCC for letting me model it, taking only partial nods for helping design it.
“I make my own historic clothing, too,” I say, pulling out my smartphone and showing them various photos of my pink 1700’s gentlemanly ensemble, my festive Scottish attire, my royal purple courtly dress and various peasant looks. Jaws drop open, especially when I tell people I make these things out of bedsheets and tablecloths I find at Savers.
“Where did you get that Coke?” I ask as a model walks by with a can.
“Downstairs,” she replies. She found a stash by the dressing rooms. I make a note of it as I get lined up for the last runthrough. I need caffeine.
I add a few touches of flair: a stomp to come to attention as I reach the end of the runway, and another stomp as I march back. I wonder if I should salute as well, but I think it’s too much.
I walk down the back stairs and find the stash that other model was talking about. A 12-pack of Coca-Cola is down to three cans inside a cooler that I gather is stocked for visiting artists -- or for us. Most of the shelves are bare by now. A cupboard next to it is a crime scene of opened tea bags deposited next to purses and cell phones.
Inside the dressing rooms, the Gadabout staff is running constantly, touching up faces and hair to help the models change their countenances as they change scenes.
Scrawled magic-marker names of bands and shows from the past decorate the walls, a visual history of who played here and when. Will we get to add our names?
I head back to the auditorium to wait while the rest of the scenes play out. I can’t find a trash can for the Coke can, so I shove it into one of the Redcoat’s generously large pockets. A trace of soda leaks out and I have to blot out a small spot in one of my coat turnouts. Fortunately for me, it’s not noticeable.
The show is supposed to start at 7pm, but the stage managers and our announcer are getting the command to hold off because people are still outside in a line which winds around the block. The Fox Theatre staff is opening the balconies. I didn’t expect this to be a sellout, but it sure feels like we’re headed there.
At 7:10, we’re still not ready to roll. People are still coming in and finding their seats. I can’t see any of it, but I can hear the soft din of the audience getting situated. My fellow models and I are queued up and practicing our walks. Our coordinator pumps us up and gives us some simple rules: “Just one foot in front of the other. Everything else will take care of itself!” He has us jump in place and wave our arms to warm us up. If I were in my kilt, I would probably dance a Highland Fling to get everybody pumped.
At 7:16, even with people still coming in the door, the showrunners decide it’s time to get going. “Ya snooze, ya lose,” the coordinator rules. We’ve tolerated fashionably-late so-called “Tucson Time” for as long as we can and sympathized with the people who have had trouble finding parking spots downtown on a Saturday night.
Our announcer tries to warm up the crowd like he’s working a Diamondbacks game. “How is everybody doing tonight?”
Some cheers, largely unhearable to us behind the stage.
“Oh, you can do better than that!”
He goes through the compulsory welcomes and thank-yous to Pima Community College and the various VIP’s and big shots in the crowd before teeing us up: “Everybody ready to see some fashion?”
More cheering. The lights come down and the music comes up.
Scene One goes through their walk and then the DJ changes tunes. I am the last model in Scene Two. We are walking out from between two flat white panels, positioned to give a stagehand a place to hide and cue us. I say a prayer, I wait my turn, and I watch the fingers of the crew lady who is cueing me into position to step into the opening and wait before starting the walk.
She motions me forward.
Instantly, I hear the crowd screaming and hooting as they see this man in a big British Redcoat and tricorn with knee breeches and buckled shoes step into the light. I can’t start walking until the previous model has cleared the row of speakers that is our cue mark.
When that time comes, the audience is loving it. I hear their excitement and yelling. I can’t see any of them with the bright lights from the balcony eclipsing any face in the crowd. I have decided not to smile, deciding that a proud British soldier should keep a dignified countenance, but with the enthusiasm of the crowd egging me on, I can’t help but add a bit of swagger.
|Source: Precious Dreams Photography|
|Source: Sherri Smalls|
The only thing to do now is wait for the show to end while basking in the afterglow. I have no other looks to model, no other clothing to display. Part of me feels wistful, wishing I could show off some of my other historic creations.
“You should have your own fashion show!” one model has said to me after I showed her my 18th Century wardrobe.
“I’d rather walk with you all.”