Cate Mackie, Head of Wardrobe | Staff Spotlight

Each month we'll be shining the spotlight on a member of our staff to ask them about their experiences and memories working with Dundee Rep & Scottish Dance Theatre and finding out more about what their job involves!

Up first is Cate Mackie, our Head of Wardrobe!

Tell us about your time at Dundee Rep & Scottish Dance Theatre. 
I started in 2016 as Head of Wardrobe, working on Rep Ensemble, Scottish Dance Theatre and our two Rep Engage companies.  
It’s a very different process working on costumes for the Rep Ensemble versus Scottish Dance Theatre. For the Ensemble, the script is the starting point so we can start to plan the costumes in advance of rehearsals, whereas for Dance, the company need to spend time in the studio creating with the choreographer to formulate what the piece is and what kind of costume it will require. SO there’s a real opposite in process - I have months of advance planning or the Ensemble but Dance is more instantaneous.  
have a lovely department to work in right at the top of the building, currently, it’s just me that works there permanently, but we get freelancers in when we need them. I’ve definitely got enough space but could always use more! I love working at the Rep. 


What does your job involve? 
In the simplest words, my job involves reading a design and getting it on to the stage.  
For Rep Ensemble productions a designer will come in initially with vague ideas that we’ll discuss and later they’ll give me a clearer idea of what they want, with designs and references so I know exactly what they’re after. Once we decide if that is feasible and affordable I’ll decide whether the costume needs to be created or if it can be borrowed or bought. Sometimes we will be able to recycle something from our wardrobe store and we can also borrow from other theatre’s wardrobes (and they can borrow from us). I will always be in conversation with the designers to ensure that we can deliver what they want at a reasonable cost which is agreed with the Production Manager.  

With standard production we would start working on the costumes maybe a week ahead of the rehearsals starting and then fittings with the actors would be a couple of weeks ahead of the show going onstage. With our Christmas productions, we will start working on costumes as early as possible after the summer.  

Fittings will happen with the actor trying on the costume and myself and the show’s designer will be there, sometimes the director or the choreographer there if there is a lot of movement in the show. 
Even at this point, we have to be flexible with the costumes because everything can still change if it isn’t working quite right or if the actor is not able to move how they need to in their performance. For example, I could make a completely accurate period costume and it might be beautiful but the actor is not able to do their job in it then it doesn’t work.  
Final decisions will come from the production’s designer – like they may want to dye fabric to match the actor better or if one costume has developed they want to ensure that the other characters still match well together. Then it’s all about finishing off the garments and making sure everything is ready for starting with tech rehearsals 

Because I am always working in advance with designers, I’m usually about 2 productions ahead of what is on stage at the moment, so there’s always a lot going on in my head! 

How did you get into working in the arts? 
My mum was an actress so I originally decided didn’t want to be involved in the theatre world at all because of that. But it did mean I grew up a lot in the theatre, I was involved in amateur productions alongside her so it was always part of my life.  

When I was about 15 or 16, it was coming up for Christmas, and I didn’t have very much money so I bought a really old second-hand sewing machine from a charity shop and I started trying to make things. It was not too bad I was able to give my mother a pair of trousers for Christmas. I actually found that I enjoyed the sewing so then I started altering my own clothes or I would steal my dad’s clothes and altered them to fit me!  

I didn’t actually make the connection between that hobby and the theatre world, I actually wanted to be a lighting designer when I was youngerMy guidance teacher at school put me off that idea though and basically said I’m not a boy so I couldn’t do lighting that so that upset me a bit. So that’s when I put together my sewing with working in the theatre. I started working voluntarily for the Lyceum and the Traverse theatres in Edinburgh, helping to organise their wardrobe and anything really that would get me working in the theatre.  

I went to college at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and when I came back to Edinburgh I starting working as a Dresser and doing some costume maintenance. From then, through word of mouth, I started doing bits of work all over the place. I got a job as Wardrobe Supervisor at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews and I was terrified because I had never supervised anyone but I ended up loving it. 
Then I had kids so I set up my own business doing alterations, upholstery, made a wedding dress and costume work when I could – basically whatever I could fit in while looking after my two young boys. Sewing is quite a handy craft to have!  
As they got a bit older I was looking for a more regular gig, so I started working at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as a Costume Tutor, and then the job at Dundee Rep came up, and here we are 

What has been your favourite moment, so far, of working at Dundee Rep & Scottish Dance Theatre? 
I don’t always get to do the sewing because I’m busy buying, organising, packing, cutting etc. But for the Christmas show, I always try to save one costume that I’ll get to make.  

Two years ago for The Snow Queenthere was a penguin costume to be made for Annie and I love doing prop costumes so I had to keep that one for myself. It was getting so close to the show and I hadn’t had a chance to start it so I ended up working non-stop in the evenings for a week to pull it together. When it came to the rehearsal when Annie first put it on, no one had seen it because it was quite last minute so when she first stepped on the stage and everyone was laughing, that was pretty great.  

For Scottish Dance Theatre, our favourite thing (and the most hated costume) is RITUALIA because it was so tricky! We had to make these huge headdresses out of plaited wool in all different shapes. We had to corset inside them so that they would stay on the dancers’ head when they’re moving. I had never done something like that before so it was a fun thing to figure out and I think it worked because they always look amazing on stage and in the photographs. 

What is your favourite Rep production and Scottish Dance Theatre piece? 
I can’t choose just one so for watching it’s All My Sons and TuTuMucky, but for costume, it’s Tay Bridge and LOOPING: Scotland Overdub