Alumni Career Profile
Natalie Christian '08
As Wardrobe Supervisor at the nationally acclaimed First Stage Children’s Theater UWM graduate Natalie Christian (Theatre Studies, ’08) takes multitasking to a new level. Only 45 seconds for a complete costume change before going back onstage? No problem. Need to fit a jumping, dancing child actor in a wig that absolutely won’t fall off? Natalie can help. Natalie had a broad base of theater experience in high school, but it wasn’t until the end of her sophomore year at UWM that she rediscovered theater as her calling. Networking, some excellent professors, and participation in the Broadway Theatre Apprenticeship Collaboration all helped her fulfill her dream of working in the arts. In my conversation with Natalie, we talked about the adrenaline rush that is theater and how to make a sausage and sauerkraut hat.
Q: You started at UWM as an art major, then changed to Theatre Studies. What made you decide to change majors? What did Theatre Studies allow you to learn? To learn about yourself?
A: Art comes alive when it is on stage. It draws a person in a way no other art form can by surrounding the viewer. Whether that is the dramatic telling of a ghost father speaking to his son beyond the grave or a bunch of little kindergarteners dancing and singing about what they are going to bring to show and tell, theater is art on its feet. I need to be a part of that world. Painting and building were wonderful, but I needed more.
I did not pick a BFA track because honestly, I was not sure what exactly I wanted to do in the theater world. I liked all aspects of it—costumes and set painting were by far my favorite—but if I would have picked just costumes, I would not have gotten the exposure that I craved in the other areas. I learned so much more about the collaboration process of theater by not limiting myself to just one thing. It also gave me the opportunity to get into more classes that I may not have been able to fit in otherwise such as Participatory Theater and Directing.
Q: You said that you worked at a child care center and as a carhop in college. How did these jobs make a difference for you in the role you play now?
A: Throughout my time at Milestones Programs for Children, I had a lot of responsibility over many different groups of kids from kindergarten to 6th grade. I had to plan activities on top of making sure the kids were in a safe environment. I loved interacting with the kids. They all have such interesting personalities all varied from kid to kid, and working with them made me want to get involved in children’s theater. It was the best work to combine what I wanted to do for a career with little, awesome people. As a carhop, quite simply, it taught me how to do nine things at the same time (and learn how to carry four ice cream cones and two sundaes out to a car without dropping them).
Q: How was networking a part of your success? How did you land the job at First Stage?
A: Networking is the reason I have a job. As part of my major I had to take a Practicum class. I took that as “go out and do the job in the real world.” My teacher Jenny Wanasek was in a production at First Stage at the time I was looking for a project. I had mentioned how much I would love to work for a company like First Stage and she hooked me up with the Scene Shop and they offered me some hours. I worked my butt off whenever I was in that shop and learned a lot about painting a prop building. That was my first internship.
After that I recieved the apprenticeship with the Broadway Theater Center. Through it I was able to work with four big name theater companies in Milwaukee: the late Milwaukee Shakespeare, Skylight Opera Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks and Chamber Theatre. I met many different designers, production workers and actors through that incredible opportunity and am now working with some of those people again.
During the apprenticeship, I was offered some overhire hours in the scene shop this past February because my name came up and during those hours learned that First Stage was hiring new wardrobe staff. I jumped on the chance to be a full-time staff member and thanks to the great recommendations, I was offered my current job.
Q: Were there any professors or instructors you found particularly memorable at UWM? If so, who were they and why?
A: UWM as an amazing theater staff. I learned so many new things from my instructors, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that most of them are out doing theater work on top of teaching, so they are constantly learning new examples and techniques to pass to their students. A couple that stand out to me are Jenny Wanasek and Raeleen McMillion because through their classes they really opened me up and made me explore things I would have never otherwise thought about. Those acting and voice and speech classes were great. It helps you learn who you are so you can become a different character and I loved that. They were two beautiful, inspiring women to learn from. I also really enjoyed Jeff Lieder and Pam Rehberg. Costumes is one of my favorite aspects of theater, and their classes taught me more techniques as well as helpful tips and hints into creating pieces we get to see on stage.
Q: You said that you made a “sausage and sauerkraut” hat for The Producers. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve made as a prop?
A: I only helped in that process; Brandon Kirkham was the mastermind behind that wonderful hat. I attached the “sauerkraut” which was little cuts of fabric attached to a netting with small zip ties. It took me 2+ days to do that. But anyone who saw The Producers at Skylight Opera Theater saw that amazing work went into all the giant hats.
One of my favorite props was a huge treasure chest that was covered in shiny metallic foil, and then jewels and crowns were placed inside. It was on stage for about 2 minutes. The joke was a tiny chest was pulled out from inside the huge one, and it went away again. It took me about a week to make it and the moment in the play was pretty worth it. It was one of my overhire projects for How I Became a Pirate at First Stage.
Q: What is the best part about your job? Or what have been some of the highlights you’ll remember most?
A: For me the best part is seeing the process all come together. Making the show happen. There is an adrenaline rush when you and the crew can completely change over a set in 30 seconds and the audience has no idea it is happening until the curtain goes back up. Or an actor comes off stage and you are the one to make them look like a new character, wig and all. I love the “in the moment” feeling of working a show. When I have not been working backstage, I still love watching everything I helped build come together. Theater is a constantly rewarding business.
Q: Is there a dream production that you’d love to be part of?
A: At some point in my career, I would like to work for Disney. The kid in me has always loved what Disney puts together. I want to dress up princesses and villains at the parks and work on the stages there as well. It seems like a lot of work and the outcome would be very worth it.
Q: If you could describe your career in five words, what would they be?
A: Playing, Teaching, Laughing, Challenging, Awesome.
Q: Do you stay connected to UWM? How has being an alumna of UWM been important to your career?
A: UWM gave me my starting point. By choosing UWM I was connected to amazing teachers who helped set me up with opportunities to grow. On top of that, a strong Greek organization, Gamma Phi Beta, allowed me to get in front of a group, make decisions, and learn to organize as a group to make a project come together. I plan on staying connected with UWM because it helped me gain the knowledge and know how to be able to do a job I love.