“Thirty Years a Dresser” by Dennis Milam Bensie— Behind the Scenes

Bensie, Dennis Milam. “Thirty Years a Dresser”, Coffeetown Press 2018.

Behind the Scenes

Amos Lassen

As a teenager in the early 1980s, Dennis Bensie knew he wanted to be in theater. Early on, he realized that becoming an actor was a goal he would not reach and so he began to work with costumes. He did this at first with summer stock companies and then with union houses. He was ready to work wherever he could find it. He soon learned that a dresser in the theater was also a nurse, a psychologist, a tailor, a personal shopper, a magician, a bodyguard, a maid, a scout, and a confidant.

Bensie takes us behind-the-scenes and shares the dish and drama during a wide range of productions including Metamorphoses, The Light in the Piazza, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion–The Musical to The Sound of Music (three times). He has stories about Lynn Redgrave, Rosie O’Donnell, Freddy Kruger’s mother, and a nameless Tony Award winner. Having once worked backstage as dramaturge for a major production of Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer”, I have to agree with Bensie that the best seat in the house is backstage. You not only get to see the show but you get all the gossip as well.

Bensie shares many unique behind the scenes moments and fun perspectives making everyone trying to get a job backstage. This is so much morethan a memoir of behind the scenes. It is a look at what happens back stage and if anyone should know that it is Dennis Bensie who has been backstage (as a dresser) for more than thirty years. I have no idea how he can remember all that he includes but I am glad that he has.

Bensie has worked on some of the great (as well as some not-so-great shows. A dresser has the job of getting the actor(s) changed quickly and ready for the next scene. Most of the time, costume changes move smoothly but not always and we see that were times when parts of costumes were overlooked or left behind. Bensie gives us some wonderfully funny examples having to do with missing underclothing.

We forget that it is possible to see the audience from backstage once in a while and we have stories here of people in the audience who did not behave as they should have. Cell phones add to these, for example. Backstage cell phones can be problems as well and there are actors who seem to not have the ability to hang up. But cell phones are only part of the issue about the behavior of the actors themselves. For those stories, you will have to get a copy of the book.

Bensie’s stories are just fun and we actually learn a bit bout human behavior by reading them. Whether it is the person or the situation that leads to the humor, it makes no difference since it is all in fun.

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