Nine to Five: Alison Stringer

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How long have you been in your job?

Two years, but I've worked in the theatre making costumes since the late Seventies.

A bit handy with the needle and thread then?

Well, I'm in charge of the overall running of a costume department for Northern Stage in Newcastle. I work with a designer turning his ideas into reality. I order materials, organise staffing and supervise the making of costumes. You are always working to a deadline, from three to five weeks to produce costumes for a show. Sometimes we hire or buy in and sometimes I go shopping in Oxfam, or we can use old stock kept in store.

Where do you live?

In Newcastle with my daughter Jenny who's 18 and my son Joe, 14. We've lived in the same large Victorian terrace house for 14 years now.

Ah, a creature of habit

Yes. Mornings are always the same. I get up before the alarm goes off at 6.45, go downstairs and drink gallons of tea and read yesterday's newspaper. At 7.00 I start shouting at the kids to get up and carry on shouting until 7.30. Joe comes down. Breakfast is cereal and stuff like that. Joe goes upstairs to play his guitar and has to be prised out the door by 8.25. Then I concentrate on Jenny. She's doing her A-levels and gets up and ready very quickly. I leave the house at 8.30.

Not much time to make yourself beautiful

Well, I don't have to present myself to the public so that's OK. I wear casual things like jeans and a sweater, usually black with comfortable black shoes as I'm on my feet all day. I'll wear overalls to protect my clothes from glue and paint.

How do you get to work?

A metro station is just a two-minute walk from my house and the theatre is only four stops away so it's almost a door to door service.

Nice one. What happens when you get there?

As in most theatres, the costume department is underground, in our case half under the stage. It contains two cutting tables, an ironing table and several sewing machines. There is a fitting room and a store where old costumes are kept. When the company is on tour I might be in the department working alongside the designer Neil Murray while the wardrobe mistress will stay with the production.

Do you work flat out?

We don't have a rigid lunch break but try to stop some stage. You have to feed your self, especially when you're working into the night.

Is it stressful?

Bits of it can be. Shortage of time is the stressful bit. If there's a hiccup anywhere a knock-on effect will be felt by the costume department. There are always unexpected difficulties: suppliers may run out of a fabric I've ordered, or an actor gets ill and the replacement is a different shape. If we have to make a new costume we have to stay until it's done.

Sounds ominous

Well, the hours can vary. On a regular week it's nine to six but during a production week - the week leading up to a first night - we can work up to 10.30, sometimes later. 13-hour days are not unusual.

Are there any perks?

Definitely. Working in an unstructured environment, getting to choose my own staff, being able to see touring companies like the RSC when they come here suits me. And having the satisfaction of seeing your work on stage in front of the public. And I get four weeks holiday a year to recharge my batteries, plus bank holidays.

I hope you use it wisely

Last year I went with my sister to the Cotswolds and the year before that I went to New York with Jenny.

What do you do when you're not on hols?

I often get home around 7.00. Evenings are a frenzy of cooking, checking homework, phone calls, being a taxi service and turning music down. The hours up to 10 disappear to nothing. I always say I'm going to take up yoga. Sometimes I meet friends and go out for a meal and a drink.

You enjoy the odd tipple?

Oh yeah! Usually, when I get home, the first thing I do is I pour myself a glass of red, then start cooking. Sometimes Jenny starts putting a meal together before I get in.

How do you feel on a Sunday night?

Absolutely fine. It's sometimes more peaceful at work than it is at home.

PETER CROSS

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