Seven Questions with Jan Creger
The woman who creates the wardrobe for the Radio City Rockettes lives in Branson during her off-season, making costumes for 417-land out of her little basement shop.
By Rose Marthis | Photos by Brandon Alms
Sitting in her basement costume shop, Jan Creger can tell you the story behind every picture, trinket, fabric scrap and memory that fills the room. She’s traveled all over to do what she loves, but she calls a house overlooking Table Rock Lake home. She has a cycle of work throughout the year—usually three months with the Rockettes, a few months with Branson shows and custom work sprinkled throughout. But one thing stays the same: her love for her craft. You can hear the love in her voice when she talks about all the people she’s met and the family she’s created by making performers look their best. When she’s not working as a wardrobe supervisor, she spends time at home with her husband and children, soaking up all the best things about 417-land that keep her from moving to the big city when her job beckons.
417 Magazine: How did your love for sewing and costumes start?
Jan Creger: When I was a kid I was in 4H and I did sewing projects. I really enjoyed that and taking projects to the fair. Then I went to school at Kansas State University and got my degree in musical theatre. While I was there, the costume shop supervisor found out I could sew, so I worked in the costume shop through college.
417: What brought you to 417-land?
J.C.: When I graduated from college I moved down here and worked full time for Silver Dollar City as a street performer and train robber. Silver Dollar City opened the Grand Palace and that really gave me the foothold for everything I’ve done in my career. In 1994, Barbara Mandrell was going to perform at the Palace quite a bit, and they needed someone to dress her. So I came in and helped her wardrobe supervisor, and we hit it off like that. I toured with her the next four years.
417: How did you get your start with the Rockettes?
J.C.: I never applied for the job. They just said, “You’re going to be the wardrobe supervisor.” I never asked to do this, but I’ve been the wardrobe supervisor now for 21 years. And it just kind of happened.
417: How does your work balance between the Rockettes and Branson shows?
J.C.: With my business, I kind of have seasons. I have my Rockettes season October through December, then in January people are getting prepared for the shows here in town. I’m busy doing alterations and making costumes. Then that rolls right into prom and wedding season. Then in the summertime, that rolls right into boat season, and I do canvas work for boat covers. I go out to the docks with my machine and repair sails on sailboats. That’s been really fun because I do custom work. I get this variety of doing different things throughout the year. Then at the end of summer I’m preparing for the Rockettes again.
417: What do you want people to know about your job?
J.C.: Everything has to be so precise with the Rockettes. Every hat has to be just right. It’s my job as wardrobe supervisor to make sure that the precision is in the costumes just as it is in the dance on stage. Every hem has to be perfect. You create the illusion that they’re all the same height. I’ve been doing this for almost half my life. It’s very special to me.
417: What’s your favorite part of being a wardrobe supervisor?
J.C.: It’s been so fun. I’m just so lucky to get to do what I do and enjoy it and help people. It can be very stressful at times but it’s all about hard work. My parents taught me all about hard work living out on the farm. I’m really fortunate that my hobby can be my job. It’s been my hobby from when I was kid, but I could make a career out of it. I enjoy theatre and music so much and I get a chance to be a part of all of that, but still get to make a living at being involved in it. It’s a good way to live.
417: Since the Rockettes are taking this year off, what are you looking forward to?
J.C.: I haven’t had Christmas here at home since I was pregnant with the twins. (They’re 10 years old now.) I’m looking forward to having Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. They’re looking forward to it, too. We’re really going to do it big for Halloween this year.
417: What’s the funniest moment you’ve had backstage at a show?
J.C.: You know (the dancers’) muscles are always sore. One of the girls got ahold of a tube of Zostrix cream, and it’s supposed to be like Bengay but it’s made out of hot, hot peppers. The lady that gave it to them said, ‘now you only use a teeny teeny tiny bit.’ I walk into the dressing room, the Rockettes are smearing it all over themselves. And they go out for the first number and come off, and they’re all crying and their faces are beet red and they run to the dressing room and strip off all their clothes and stand in front of fans. And so they’d cool themselves off a little bit and then they’d go back on stage and they would use their muscles and their muscles would warm back up again and then there it was. Oh the crying! And it took until the next day for that to go away. I felt so bad, but it was just so funny.
417: Has designing costumes affected your personal style?
J.C.: When I’m working with a client I want to make them feel good about what they’re wearing. Fashion is not about trends, at least for me. It’s finding your own style and playing on our best assets. What you feel comfortable in is what you’re going to be the most confident in. And it never hurts to throw in a little bling. I do a lot of alterations. I think it’s really important to tailor your clothes to fit you. You’ll get more use out of them because you want to wear them.
417: What is one of the biggest problems you’ve had to solve during show time?
J.C.: A dresser presetting the wrong shoes for the wrong person, and them squeezing their feet into a pair of shoes that’s two sizes too small. Then waiting for them at the side of the stage and quick changing them into their proper shoes when you only have 10 seconds to do it. That’s pretty intense.
417: What keeps you in 417-land?
J.C.: What’s neat about living in the Ozarks, everyone really rallies up for each other and stands behind each other. When you’re from the Midwest, there’s this precursor reputation that were a bunch of country bumpkins and that were just a bunch of hicks. My best cities that I’ve been in have been the ones that are right down the middle of the United States. The hardest workers and the smartest workers are right here in the heartland. That’s what we have- we have the Midwest work ethic. I’m happy to be right here. People care about each other here. My best dressers have been from the Midwest because those dressers care for the performers. They make sure that everything is right for the dancers. I’m proud to be from the Midwest and I think I’ll just stay right where I am. I can always travel to places for work, but this is where I’m happiest.
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