Barbara Poppa

Costume director Barbara Poppa lays out a bridal veil as she prepares for a ballet performance at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Poppa has been the costume director at Segerstrom Center since 1986. (KEVIN CHANG / Daily Pilot / July 24, 2014)

Barbara Poppa, wardrobe supervisor at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, reached for a plastic basket and pointed to the washing machine before her.

"I've got exciting laundry to do," she said, holding a ballerina's slip for Russian dancers Osipova and Vasiliev, a ballet duo premiering that night. "And the veil for the wedding scene needs to be repaired."

Poppa knows that as wardrobe supervisor, there's a laundry list of primary responsibilities.

There's the care of all costumes, shoes, undergarments, hats and costume-related props.

There's the steaming and pressing costumes before each performance.

There's ensuring proper labeling, hanging and storage of all costume pieces.

Then there are the costume repairs, considered "emergencies," that are done on-site before and sometimes during the actual performance.

Stains? Holes? Rips? Odor? Poppa is armed with a sewing machine, glue gun, pins and vodka.

We'll get to the vodka later. Let's start at the very beginning.

Poppa, now 70, said she is not educated in theatrical production.

But sewing, yes.

She's sewn all her life for her four kids and one grandson. And there was that time when she stitched up Kentucky Fried Chicken uniforms in her home.

It was familiarity that brought Poppa to learn of the wardrobe supervisor position at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, originally called Orange County Performing Arts Center. Poppa so badly wanted the job she wrote a letter to the head of management asking to join the team. She started in 1986, when the venue opened.

She's been ironing costumes, checking for repairs and keeping celebrities with sizable egos in check since.


No whining allowed

Hidden in the lower level of the center, underneath the stage where high-profile stars have performed plays, music and dance, is Poppa's office, papered with signage — some inspirational, others requests.

"Life's not a dress rehearsal. Get out there and enjoy it."

"All drama must remain on the stage."

The word "whining" is written in bold capital letters inside a slashed circle.