Backstage volunteer experience

Hey everyone,

Around a week ago, I decided to apply for the position of a volunteer dresser for an upcoming fashion show as I’d never worked backstage before so when I received the acceptance email I was excited to learn new skills!!!(Yes, I’m one of those people.)

Today was the day of the show and I was of a mix of apprehensive curiosity because I’d heard from people how there was a lot of waiting around. I’d done a bit of ‘rookie modelling’ with friends involving several outfit changes and continuous retakes of poses, as well as sewing items to sell/modelling those same items (though I don’t seem to make the time these days to do this) so I had a rough idea that beneath all things concerning aesthetics, there’s a large amount of effort and time required. However, I was greatly surprised with today’s backstage volunteer experience.

  • *Company name has been blurred out to maintain professionalism. 
  • *My experience does not reflect everyone’s experience in the backstage world. 
  • *mirodoor only serves as a pathway for opportunities from brands to reach volunteers, interns and more.

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I ate breakfast, then around 9:56am, I ate a cheese and bacon roll (because I love cheese and bacon rolls irrelevant I know).  Little did I know that this would be my last substantial meal. (Way too early for that bikini body – it’s still Winter mate).  

Our bags were locked in a room in another room that had an automatic closing door and we took with us our valuables and a water bottle.  I didn’t bring any food because I assumed we would be given 30-60 minutes of break time in which we would be able to purchase food.

We began with peeling off white paper stickers off shoes – though the head of the dressing team (I think he was the head of the dressing team) asked:

“Who has OCD?”

Knowing to accept any type of odd job, I replied back with:

“What type of OCD?”

And that’s how I ended with the task of cutting 24 rectangles of smoothish fabric by eye for “change cloths” out of black fabric using a white satin piece of fabric as reference (Originally, 30 black rectangles were desired as the white satin pieces would raise the models’ hair due to static. However, as the roll of fabric ran out, that meant that the other white satin pieces would be used as well).

After the shoes and the rectangles were done, we just ‘lounged’ around on the floor, occasionally being ‘briefed’ by the head of the dresser team – despite some not doing any more dresser related duties in the end.

Those who had dresser experience were allocated a model – despite the dresser team leader’s earlier words of combining people with no dresser experience with those who had dresser experience so it’d be a learning experience for all of us, those who weren’t picked/assigned to a model were just left on the floor and told to ‘wait’- for what I’m not entirely sure.. I guess they say “Don’t trust strangers’ words” for a reason.

As the hours wore on, I felt my customer service nice face façade slowly peel off and the ones on the floor (around five to seven of us) began to grow restless.

At around 3:30pm I asked the person in charge of us whether a few others and I could grab lunch from outside while we were waiting around because

  1. We were doing nothing on the floor for the past 1.5 hours (Apparently, there was a surplus of volunteers because a friend arrived late (due to prior unchangeable engagements) and was given the option to leave because they had ‘too many people’.)
  2. It was close to technically 5 hours of ‘volunteering’ and paid jobs give you a break at 5 hours of work.

Her response was ” We’re having a light dinner at 5:30pm. Have a drink of water and go to the bathroom if you need to”. 

I don’t remember signing up to a water and chill diet.

Around 15 minutes later, she came back with packets of popcorn, mini chocolate bars and Uncle Toby’s museli bars as ‘snacks’.

I’ve never realised how empty popcorn is till this day – so much salt on all levels. 

More ‘lounging’ around until the volunteer organiser came back again and tasked two girls and I to clean up the ‘snack table’ – the most worryingly under catered snack table I’d seen.

Around 6:00pm, there was ‘light dinner’ in the form of a limited number of appetisers – this was more like a vague manifestation of a lunch for many of us – a fair few other dresser volunteers didn’t get the chance to have any of these ‘appetisers’.

Just before 7:00pm hit, two of us and I asked the volunteer supervisor if we could leave early because there wasn’t anything for us to do and why would we waste our time hoping for some dresser related task to pop up and not do some menial cleanup job. At this point, it felt like we were being literally locked up in this place because the huge glass doors only opened from the inside – once you went outside, you couldn’t come back in unless a kind stranger opened it for you (Strangers also come in the kind variety.) 

Overall comments

  1. I’m not irritated because we weren’t paid for volunteering – we didn’t do much.
  2. Which brings me to my next point: we didn’t do much related to the job description at all.
  3. This type of volunteering is meant to be of advantage to us in the end but honestly I don’t think I learnt much except that this management team didn’t prioritise organisation and hospitality to volunteers.
  4. I felt like we were exploited underneath the façade of this ‘volunteering’ opportunity. Travelling around 40 minutes(some people lived further than I) only to cut a 26 pieces of fabric and clean up a table.
  5. Skills learned? 0 | Hours spent at the venue in total(excluding travel): 8
  6. Once again, it’s not mirodoor’s fault as they are only the pathway and connection between brands and volunteers, interns etc.
  7. I met some really lovely people so I don’t regret this, my first fashion backstage volunteering experience. Also I don’t think I’ve drank so much water till today, so yay for hydration.
  8. If my future self had to give my current self advice for today’s experience, I think she’d say “Those 29x 20cm pockets in your windbreaker are there for a reason- smuggling food”.

Thanks for reading – any advice/feedback is greatly appreciated!

Emily

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Design student | Sydney