going to battle in a foam helmet

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I went to battle earlier this year trying to fulfill the wacky theatrical vision of my dear friend, Rob. Rob directed a community theater production of Lysistrata, a play written by the ancient Greek comic playwright, Aristophanes, in 411 BCE.

When Rob asked me to help with costuming, he pitched the play as the “first-ever sex comedy” and then described his wildly creative plans for it. I couldn’t resist agreeing to help but I wanted to be careful about over-committing. These kinds of projects are the bane of my already-challenged ability to get and keep my life in balance.

To accommodate my weakness, someone else would take the lead. I would only be assisting her. Whew! She had a history doing costuming with the theater house so I felt I could relax in her capable hands. I had already witnessed her great note-taking and learned about her confident plan of attack for this show. Double whew!

The project promised to be a piece of cake for me! Unfortunately, this cake would end up tasting like a big ol’ Trojan horse. I wouldn’t know this for a long time though. It seems oddly fitting to me now that the first thing I offered to do was create one dozen helmets for the Greek soldiers. I happily used up all the upholstery foam I had on hand. Bonus: it freed up precious space in my craft area.

I cut out, then sewed the foam pieces together for each helmet.

Then I painted them and attached some feathers. They were so much fun!

I admit that I lingered over the helmets, enjoying the process, trusting that the lead costumer would let me know what I should be focusing on next. She assured me that she had everything under control.

So I reconditioned and styled a wig for the woman playing a brothel-keeper. I’m not going to lie, it was a pain because I had to style the wig to be worn upside down due to its mullet-like cut.

By the time I’d finished these items, little more than two weeks remained until opening night. I’d been checking in regularly with the lead costumer who repeatedly assured me that she had the costuming under control.

Despite her reassurances, a gnawing nervousness took root. This was a huge production and Rob designed the play to be costume-intensive owing to the fact that he had the luxury of two costumers working on it. So far, my contributions would barely made a dent in the workload. It’s possible that she was a costuming wizard who could handily out-sew me. I welcomed that possibility. Best person for the job and all that. The problem was that I had yet to see any evidence to support that possibility. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.

At two weeks prior to opening, I felt myself hyperventilate whenever I passed the empty costume racks. I confessed my panic to Rob. That piece of cake was taking on a bitter taste.

As it turned out, I wasn’t worried enough. She hadn’t completed anything. Even the base costumes which were little more than togas weren’t done. Not only were those not done, they had yet to be cut out, much less sewn. It felt like a piece of Trojan horse flavored cake had been shoved down my throat. But instead of soldiers, I would be fighting time and materials. And indigestion.

Sure, I could have walked away. Left Rob holding the equivalent of a bag of shit on fire. But I couldn’t…wouldn’t do that to my buddy.

So much for the effort to maintain balance in my life.

So, there we were, little more than one week until opening night with an entire show to costume and gut-wrenching panic wondering if we could pull it off. Rob and I donned the helmets for an emergency strategy session where we hammered out how the show’s costuming could be salvaged. Then we went to battle against time and reason during every possible moment over the next week, using the foam helmets every time we felt the need to beat our heads against an available hard surface.

We did pull off the production, by the way. But those helmets don’t offer as much protection as you’d hope for.

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