December 8, 2021

“What can you do with a major in the arts or humanities?” is a frequent question we hear. Some of the answers are well-known: actor, writer, lawyer, teacher, graphic designer, translator. But other jobs are a little more…specialized. Niche Knights, a new series from the UCF College of Arts and Humanities, shines a spotlight on some of the more unique and obscure jobs being performed by our alumni.

This month, Caleb Howell ’16, a Theatre BFA (Design and Technology) alumnus, shares his experience as a Broadway dresser and theatrical milliner. Dressers are in charge of looking after a show’s costumes and assisting actors with getting dressed, especially during quick changes, while milliners design and manufacture hats. In our first installment of Niche Knights, Caleb takes us behind the scenes of his unique Broadway career:

Hi, I’m Caleb, and I’m a Broadway dresser and theatrical milliner. I can’t pick one over the other — they are honestly the best of both worlds. I spend dark days (theatre lingo for days off) at the hat shop and evenings/matinees in the theater. I’ve been working as a milliner on and off since college, mainly freelance or as part of a crafts team. Since moving to New York, I have worked for Lynne at Lynne Mackey Studio and have continued to grow as an artist. I began my journey at UCF as a mechanical engineering student — so needless to say I enjoy the math of millinery. The patterning, sculpting, imagining in 3D and structural stability are what also make this a true art form.

I work hard to maintain my skills, but also love that every day I learn something new. As a dresser, I have an understanding of the life that a hat is living during the show. I can lend my skills to my wardrobe supervisor to help maintain, alter or brainstorm what we can do to make the hat last. After all, they are experiencing more for eight performances a week than you can imagine. I am truly humbled by my journey so far in New York and on Broadway. Every single person in this adventure has taught me something, and I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge and skills with them. Keep crafting, keep creating, keep daydreaming and keep learning.

"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," designed by Donna Zakowska. Hats made at Lynne Mackey Studio by milliner Caleb Howell
Hats for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” designed by Donna Zakowska and made at Lynne Mackey Studio by milliner Caleb Howell

I have been a dresser on Broadway for Wicked, Frozen and Hamilton, and I’m currently a dresser for The Music Man. I’ve been a stitcher for Hamilton, Mrs. Doubtfire and MJ the Musical. And I’ve made and worked on hats for Wicked, Aladdin, Hamilton, Moulin Rouge, Pretty Woman, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Plot Against America, Hadestown, The Cher Show, Once on This Island, Phantom of the Opera, Mean Girls, The Color Purple North American tour, the Phantom Philippines tour and the Hamilton Angelica, Phillip and Peggy tours.

And that’s thankfully just the beginning! I’m a proud UCF graduate and even more proud of my community for sticking it out, coming together, and helping each other in the tough times that have affected the arts over the last two years. We’re back and bigger than ever and ready to create an inclusive and welcoming space for all. I am honored to be included in this. Please buy a ticket and support a theater local or tour — we need it. And you need it, so do it!

 

Are you a College of Arts and Humanities alum with a unique career you’d like to share with us? Submit your story here!