It’s five minutes until the curtain rises for 42nd Street and Pam Mattei hasn’t taken a seat yet. She’s stuck in traffic: backstage traffic that is. The junior fine arts major is busy helping fix last-minute costume and prop problems before the cast makes its way on stage.
The costume challenges, though, are all in a night’s work for Mattei, who works backstage as a dresser for various Broadway Series productions when they travel through Cincinnati. “We make sure the actors have everything they need so they can go out on stage,” she says. “They may have only 20 seconds to change, and some outfits are so complicated that it’s hard for them to put them on by themselves. So we zip zippers or tie shoes. Sometimes we run to find a prop. Sometimes we just hold a flashlight so they can see.”
Mattei discovered her love of the theater back in high school when a friend encouraged her to join the school play. She didn’t like being on stage. “But I got backstage and I loved the electricity and the family atmosphere of the cast and crew,” she says.
While helping out with a Xavier Players production on one of the smaller stages at the Aronoff Center for Performing Arts in downtown Cincinnati, Mattei introduced herself to the theater’s wardrobe master. Through that connection, she’s since worked backstage on Phantom of the Opera and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes.
“It’s incredible,” she says. “You get to meet all the people and be a part of the show: the lights, the sounds, the feelings that can’t be experienced in the front of the house.”
She’s even getting the cast and crew of the touring productions familiar with Xavier by inviting them to campus after some of their performances for, of all things, late-night kickball games against members of the Xavier Players inside Schmidt Fieldhouse.