Interview: Wicked Dresser Teale Dvornik on the Business of Building a Broadway Brand
Teale Dvornik has made it her mission to make a name for herself. And she shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Not only is she a dresser in Wicked on Broadway and a member of the Gagged Girl Gang; she also runs her own Broadway and style blog, The Backstage Blonde, where she publishes articles on the secret histories and stories of Broadway theaters and tips and tricks about living in New York and working in the theater and fashion industry, among other things. Below, find out how she got her start in New York and the importance of persistence, consistency, and action in building a career and a brand to be proud of.
How did you get your start in the arts?
I have amazing parents who always exposed us to the arts and all the different mediums. When I was young we took dance classes and acting classes, and I played the flute and percussion. My siblings, between them, played the trumpet, the tuba, and the harp. And anytime a national Broadway touring show came through town we went to see it. We had season tickets. So I always grew up around the arts. But I didn't fall in love with theater as my ultimate passion until 2009 when I was a sophomore [in college] and transferred schools. And costume design was the closest thing they had to fashion design. And I just knew, "This is it. I want to work on Broadway. I want to be a part of creating magic that makes people feel incredible."
And you studied costume design in college?
Yeah, I was costume design focused and I had a bachelor in arts and theater. And it was cool because I got to do a little bit of acting and just play around with that, even though I didn't want to do that as a career. I didn't know what my future fully looked like at that point. I didn't know I would end up being a Broadway dresser. I still thought I wanted to be a costume designer. But I knew that, "Broadway. This is it." (laughs)
For those who don't know, can you explain what a Broadway dresser is?
A Broadway dresser is backstage during the shows helping the actors quick change, and taking care of the costumes, and setting everything up so that the show runs as smoothly as possible. They're just one division of the wardrobe team. There are lots of different jobs on a wardrobe team at a Broadway show, and dresser is just one of them.
And Aladdin and Wicked were your first shows on Broadway as a swing dresser?
Yeah, Wicked was my first, and then I swung there exclusively for six months, and then I joined Aladdin and swung the two shows at the same time. I knew 16 people's tracks between the two shows. And I worked at Radio City one season. And then I was full time at Aladdin for nine months, and then left to go back to Wicked full-time.
What was it like moving to New York? And how did you get that first job with Wicked?
Well, out of school I knew that I wanted to live in New York and work on Broadway, but I needed money to do that. So I worked my first summer stock job up at Stagedoor Manor in Loch Sheldrake, New York, in the Catskills. It was amazing. I got to design a bunch of really cool shows. And then after that I was in negotiations between the Disney Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line to be a wardrobe supervisor. I ended up going with Norwegian, and I cruised with them for two years, just working as a wardrobe supervisor on the ships with the singers and dancers. Got to travel the world and save a lot of money.
So I moved to New York three years ago. And my first theatrical job here was wardrobe supervising over at the Queens Theater. And from there I just . . . I was very one-track mind. I didn't want a survival job that wouldn't give me flexibility, so I babysat and just really hustled and tried to make connections, and get my resume seen by as many Broadway people as I could.
What’s a day in the life of a dresser?
It's pretty great. It's a really great job. So I'll go into work at 5:30. We're called in an hour before the actors half hour call, so I'm there two hours before the show starts. And we wait to find out who's in the show that night, and then once we find out who's in and out, we set our racks. And then we take our racks up to the deck backstage and preset all the costumes, make sure everything's there, looking good. And then I just sit in the dressing room. I have a station in the female ensemble dressing room, and I am just in there in case the girls need anything.
I did hear about you duct-taping a heel to a shoe in 15 seconds, so kudos for that because that's phenomenal!
Yeah, you just have to make it work. That was a really crazy moment backstage at Radio City. Haven't had anything that crazy at Wicked. It's a well-oiled machine over there.
How did you get a gig at New York Fashion Week?
I'm a dresser there. I work for this independent company and big fashion houses will go to this company and say, "We need 25 dressers for this show." Because backstage at a fashion show is absolutely crazy. So it helps the brand and the people on the team if they have outside professional dressers that come in and that's their only job, so they can run around doing whatever else they need to do. This [was] my third season, I think. It's just a really fun experience. It's so different than theater.
How would you define collaboration?
It doesn’t have to be two creative people. I think it's two people coming together with different viewpoints, and then creating one amazing end product. Which is why when we first started Gagged Chokers, that was such a fun beginning for the company, because we all had separate visions and we brought them all in, put them on the table, and then were able to create this company together.
So what role have you played within the Gagged Chokers company?
When we were starting Gagged I did a lot of market research. I was in charge of our intern, Caitlin, and just promoting the brand, and putting our name out there in a positive light as much as I could, and just really making a big social media imprint. I realized that the thing that makes Gagged so special is the friendship between the four of us. And the fact that the chokers are made by a princess. My dad thought of the slogan “Made by a princess.” I mean they're beautiful, fun chokers, but letting people into our whole life, and Courtney and her amazing Broadway status, that's what people are actually so attracted to.
So we coined the phrase Gagged Girl Gang, and then our intern and I just spent a lot of time working on the Tumblr, and making a community that these little girls wanted to be a part of.
How did you have the know-how to research marketing, and to work on launching a business? Is it something you had studied before? Or were you learning on the job?
Well, my dad is an amazing entrepreneur. So I was raised always in the kitchen just brainstorming ideas. Even if they never came to fruition it was always like, "Okay, how can we make money off of your skill set? What do you have that no one else does?" And so I identified that with Gagged. The other girls, they really focused on product development and manufacturing the products and I just thought, "How can I really, really set us apart?" So yeah, I think I owe a lot of it to my dad.
What was it like working with your friends, and adding this new business element to your friendships? Did anything change? Was it interesting to navigate those relationships in this new context?
Yeah, it was definitely interesting to navigate. If anything, I think we all got closer because of it. Those girls know me better than almost anyone and they love my strengths and respect them. I'm very type A. I can be very serious when I'm talking business. So when we're in brainstorming sessions, they knew not to get offended when I wouldn’t just say, "Oh my gosh, that's so cute. I love your idea." You know? I'm like, lets just cut through all that. That's something cool, you know, with Courtney and all the other girls—just throwing ideas out there.
And that's another thing about collaboration, you have to feel safe. Because you know, people get offended easily. [For example], someone had an original packaging design, and I said, "That's great. Or this would look cleaner." And they loved it, so we ended up packaging in that way.
If you had any choice in the world, living or dead, who would you want to collaborate with?
The first person to come to my head is Kris Jenner. The way she has taken her family and created this powerhouse international brand. And then each individual child . . . Like Kylie's a billionaire at 20. What they've done with their family is just unbelievable. I'd love to sit down and have a brainstorming session with her. That would be really cool (laughs).
And what kind of projects are you working on now?
Well right now, in my own life, I'm working on becoming a lifestyle brand and we're developing the Backstage Blonde. And [asking] where do I go from there. I've held off on some stuff and waited, and it paid off because I've collaborated with big brands like Maybelline and Aveda, which is cool.
So you’re literally balancing two other careers. What made you decide to launch a third and create The Backstage Blonde?
I had a blog when I was on the cruise ships. Then when I moved to New York I was having all these really interesting experiences, and my family's always encouraged me to do this. But I knew I had to wait until the right time. I couldn't just launch the "Teale" blog. You have to have a very clear vision and mission statement to take something that big on and have it be successful.
So then I realized, "No one has ever really been backstage before." The only thing that you're seeing on Broadway.com and stuff like that is interviews with the leads and the star. And through Gagged I started to pick up Instagram followers and have little girls reach out to me saying, "I work backstage too. I want to be a dresser too." And I realized, "This is it." I'm gonna interview dressers and stage hands, and just show a side of theater that's never been done before.
I follow a ton of bloggers or influencers. They're all downtown, they're all taking pictures in front of the Brooklyn Bridge and they're all fashion bloggers. There's no one doing what I'm doing in Hell's Kitchen. No one's making the theater district look cool and taking high quality photos in front of these gorgeous theaters. So I thought, let's do it.
So how you would start something like this? What's a day in the life as a blogger?
So I launched the blog in April, I'm still kinda trying to figure that out. Because a lot of bloggers will like have their idea for a post, and then take content to match that. And right now I'm doing it in kind of a backwards way. I'll have a photo shoot in and around the theater district and then I'll write based on the pictures I was able to capture. Or I'll write something and then go through my archive of photos and see what pictures would go best with what I wrote.
It's really hard to keep up a blog honestly, with my job and Instagram content. And I want to create quality content, you know? I'm really not interested in just putting junk out there.
What business advice would you give to other artists?
I think the first thing is just, save your money and stay out of debt. Just get your finances straight. And then, I mean honestly, I give my actors notes on their Instagram pages all the time. I'm like, "You gotta step it up." Because it's important to build their brand. And I think that a lot of people don't realize how important it is, having a clear vision and a clear aesthetic. Because there are people who are gorgeous, or have cool pictures, but if you go to their feed it doesn't match. It's not cohesive. So yeah, if you really want to build an Instagram following, you need a clear vision of who you are, and what you want to represent.
How do you define success as an independent artist?
I am a very success driven human. I always have been. Gosh, as an independent artist though . . . I mean, my success has always been, "Am I working hard enough? Am I pushing myself towards my goals enough? Are my parents proud of me?" (laughs) That's a big one.
I think that, especially in a city like New York, and in a field as competitive as the theater industry, I think that personal success can be measured on so many different levels. And you shouldn't compare yourself to other people's journeys. I know people who worked off Broadway for years and years and years, and I got here and started immediately, you know? But what you don't see are the years I spent struggling to get to New York. I think personal success for every artist is just different.
And that's the other thing with being a creative is you know your potential, you know what's inside of you. And if you aren't pushing hard toward your goals, or creating something beautiful, or being a part of something amazing, then what are you doing? That's kind of why I transferred schools, because my freshman year of college I was fashion design, but all I cared about was being social, and being popular at my university. And it was great from that standpoint, but at the end of the year, I hadn't developed myself as an artist at all. I hadn't done anything. I hadn't contributed anything to the world. So I knew I ha[d] to change my entire life.
What challenges do you face in your day to day life as an artist?
I think just accountability with myself because I don't have to show up to work at nine in the morning, and sit behind a desk. So I have to make my own to-do list and really keep on top of what I actually need to accomplish. Because that's the other thing: I'm not getting paid to make this blog, you know? I literally don't have to do it if I don't feel like it. So making a content calendar, and keeping [track of ] my posting consistencies is how I stay accountable.
Who would say has been your greatest champion or supporter in your career so far?
My parents. No matter what they're always cheering me on, and pushing me to work harder and go further. They're really great.
Who's been the person that you've met in your career so far that you were the most excited to meet, or you fangirled over the most?
That's so hard. Because you work with these people. I'm not a fangirl anymore. The only person I've been really excited to meet in New York City and freaked out over was Casey Neistat. It was in Washington Square Park, and he was filming. He's this amazing YouTuber. So I met him, which was really cool. But once you're in the business and at this level, they're your peers, you know? And you could potentially work with them one day. Also I didn't come in as a fangirl to this. I always loved theater, but I've never been a diehard fan of certain actors. So yeah, no, I don't really fangirl at work. The coolest person I met was Robert DeNiro backstage at Radio City.
So what other tips would you have for someone who's interested in building their brand as a blogger, a performer, or another kind of artist?
Photo consistency, consistency with what you're doing and what you're saying. If you're going to be a workout influencer, then you need to be consistently posting about different classes you're taking, or your body progressions, and stuff like that. On social media it's all about consistency. I've posted on Instagram every single day since last December, and my follower count has grown exponentially. The people that I follow on social media, I check in with them every day to see what new stuff they've put out there. So if you aren't putting new things out there, then why are people going to want to come back?
What resources do you use, regionally and otherwise, as a dresser, as a blogger, and member of the Gagged Girl Gang?
Well, Squarespace is amazing. I really love Squarespace. I'm a member of Reward Style, the liketoknow.it program. So that's been cool. Just to try to start making some revenue off of what I'm wearing. I connect most with the fans and other people through Instagram and Twitter. I use this amazing website called Fohr Card to connect with brands that are looking for influencers. So that's been really cool. And I'm a member of the New York Junior League, a women's philanthropy group that was founded in New York City in 1901, and is now an international organization. So there are hundreds of different committees within the New York Junior League, and the committee I'm on teaches an art class to third graders every Tuesday morning in the Lower East Side. That's always an important part of settling into a new city for me--getting a library card, and finding somewhere to volunteer and give back.
So how do you balance all of this? It sounds like you have about seven jobs.
(Laughs) Yeah, I do a lot of different things. I think you just have to walk into your day intentionally, especially because my roommates have normal office jobs, so they go to their office, they have their pre-made lunch. I have my whole day, you know? So I really have to schedule things out. I think that's the only way to not go crazy, is to really have a schedule and stick to it.
Where do you see Backstage Blonde going in the future?
I'm really, really excited. And that's a question I've been asking myself lately--where do I see this brand going? What's the ultimate endgame? I really want to be a powerful Broadway influencer. I think that this community, and the blogging world, wants one. There's a market for it. This is the blog that I would always look for when I was in college. So to be able to fill that spot in the market is exciting. I have a lot of things in the works, a lot of different ideas I'm trying to flesh out. And really trying to like solidify my voice, and what I'm going to put out on the blog. There's so many possibilities, there's so many different ways this could go.
A cool direction that I didn't really see this taking, and that I think it's really going to veer towards, is female empowerment. I really love being able to encourage the teenage girls who look up to me. I've noticed that the posts that I write from a big sister voice are the ones that get the most love. People have really, really loved when I'm giving advice, or talking about personal struggles. So as much as people love Broadway, I think they just love real people and real vulnerability.
What does it mean to be an influencer to you?
I think it means exposing people to products, or events, or other people and things that they might not have seen before, or having sway in people's opinions of those things. [For example], with the Gagged Girl Gang, Courtney [Reed], LJ [Wright], and I became obsessed with Ivy Park, and then we saw girls who followed us were going out there and buying Ivy Park. It's stuff like that. It's endorsing a product, but having your followers' trust so that they want to buy into that product too.
What piece of practical advice, and what piece of inspirational advice would you give to an artist that's just starting out?
I think the inspirational advice is just keep dreaming big. Don't compare your journey to someone else's journey. Recently I had an idea for the Backstage Blonde, and it was a really good idea that everyone loved, but my dad said, "You're bigger than that. Go bigger. What's the next level?" So I think, just as an artist, continue pushing yourself and thinking outside the box, and not being dormant. Because you know, I had this full-time job on Broadway. I was set. And I thought, "But I need to do something." And that's when the blog really started. I [thought], I have to create something to just keep challenging myself. Because I think the only dangerous thing about being a creative is letting yourself do nothing, and getting comfortable with your situation.
I think the thing that really sets aside true creatives from people who are just interesting and creative is action. Anyone can have an idea. Ideas are nice things. They're great things, but [if] you have the drive and the power to set those ideas into action and make them happen, that's what sets you apart. Anyone can have a beautiful voice, but unless you're doing something with your voice, or your talent, then what are you doing? Real creatives are the ones who are actually creating. Not just thinking of nice things.
And then practical advice--I think just constantly inspire yourself. Because it's easy when you're not in college to stop reading. In college you're surrounded by artists who are as hungry as you are, so you guys are all just constantly feeding off each other, and doing amazing things, and making things. So go to the library and check out books, and just stay inspired.
Visit Teale's blog, The Backstage Blonde, for tips on visiting and living in New York, literal behind-the-scenes looks at your favorite Broadway shows and theaters, and advice on style, beauty, and life in general! You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter! But we're not done yet! More to come from the ladies of Gagged Chokers with our #GaggedGirlsTakeover this January!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.