Volunteer Spotlight: Barbara Berman
While casts of up to 200 impeccably dressed (and occasionally undressed) performers entertain onstage at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS events, there's magic happening back stage to make sure every costume piece works, every hat stays on and every shoe fits.
Master "magician" Barbara Berman, with her extraordinary team of dedicated dressers, makes quick changes and emergency alterations happen flawlessly time and again.
"We have to do last-minute repairs, steaming and ironing, but we're doing what we do best," Berman said. "A lot of the actors are surprised they're going to have dressers and they end up counting on us for just about everything. It's very gratifying."
Berman first volunteered for Broadway Cares nearly a decade ago. "I told them: 'You don't know what I do, but you'll be happy when I do it,'" she said.
She started by helping at the concert event Nothing Like a Dame and has since become an integral part of each Broadway Cares event.
"It's not just me, it's the whole wardrobe team," said Berman, who also finds time to teach in the Center for Professional Studies at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. "The team has become a very dedicated group and, for the last four or five years, it's pretty much been the same group for every show."
Most of this generous group are professional dressers on Broadway, though a few are simply committed individuals keen to help out. The team's "stitcher," Barb Simpson, is a freelancer for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, while Darryl Nipps is a theatre fan who works in corporate marketing. Other loyal members include freelance wardrobe specialists Rodney Harper, Christine Kahler and Jaime Torres.
"They all seem to find time to help at the events," Berman said. "I found them and they found me, so there's a service component with also a lot of camaraderie. They are terrific people who are really dedicated and love donating their time."
Former Broadway Cares Producing Director Michael Graziano led the events throughout the time Berman has been a volunteer. Over the years, he came to rely on the consistency of Berman and her crew.
"She comes with an amazing team of dressers," Graziano said. "They really take over from the minute they get there on the event day. They've got everything taken care of in terms of quick changes and organizing all of the costumes backstage – they're running everything that needs to happen in wardrobe."
For Berman and her team, the day of the event can be chaotic, but it's never more than they can handle, as Graziano well knows.
"I think one of my favorite memories of Barbara is seeing her before one of our Gypsy of the Year shows," Graziano remembered. "She had her entire team going over every detail about dressing – the costumes, the timing. Seeing that, I knew everything was going to be taken care of. Her whole team is on board and I'm not going to have to worry about it."
Berman and her dressers do not see the costumes or meet the performers until the morning of each event, which means the dressing, alterations, repairs, quick-change requirements and all other duties of a wardrobe team occur in just a brief window between the single onstage rehearsal and show time.
Each event requires incredible energy and meticulous organization from Berman and her team, but their skill and practice have turned the gargantuan process into a controlled routine. Because they volunteer for every major Broadway Cares event , this consistency proves especially helpful.
"I think one of the great things about Barbara is that she has been a constant presence that we know we can always count on," Graziano said. "She has built this team of supporters that now come to our events and are really part of the Broadway Cares family."
As a committed volunteer, Berman not only enjoys working on each show, but also feels the resonating impact of her hard work when each one is finished.
"It feels like a real accomplishment," Berman said. "When they announce the amount of dollars raised after each event, it brings tears to my eyes. That makes it all worthwhile."
Story by Anna Troiano, photo by Daniel T. Gramkee