For her, costumes are a habit

Jocelyn Cartwright has no desire to be onstage.

She's too shy to be comfortable under a spotlight. Plus, there's the question of training.

The Montello, Wisc., resident doesn't need to be on the front line hearing applause, though. As head of wardrobe for Troika Entertainment, her domain is backstage.

Making sure the actors are in costume in time for their cues stimulates joy, she said, adding, "I'm helping them get to where they need to be."

Cartwright, 34, will travel from San Diego to Costa Mesa with the cast of "Sister Act" for a stop at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts from Aug. 6 to 18.

The religion-based story is a spinoff on the similarly named 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg. After a 16-month run in the Big Apple, "Sister Act" kicked off its first North American tour in Toronto on Oct. 2.

With original music by songwriter Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, the tale of a nightclub-singer-turned-nun is also a Tony nominee for Best Musical. To Center president Terry Dwyer, the musical's success thus far made it an obvious choice for a local run. Ticket sales are pleasing and also reflect a number of church organizations that plan to attend.

"I'm looking forward to audiences coming here to see a new show, one they've never seen before, being completely entertained with the music, production numbers and comedy — and leaving the Center feeling they've had a wonderful time," he said.

Dashaun Young, 30, of New York, has been part of the "Sister Act" troupe for almost a year. The Cal State Fullerton graduate portrays four characters, including the policeman Sweaty Eddie.

"It's been amazing," he said. "We get to see so many different places across the country on tour."

Cartwright plays a critical role in keeping the show running, he noted. Whether fitting costumes, making alterations or maintaining accessories, she stays busy backstage.

"Her presence is around every theater," said the former "Lion King" and "Hairspray" actor, who enjoys watching the audience's awestruck expressions during Sweaty Eddie's triple costume change.

Starting out at the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson, Wisc., Cartwright, who also worked on Troika's "Fiddler on the Roof," says no two days are alike. Some are great, and others force her to sit back and wonder, "What's going on here?"

After years of dodging surprises behind the scenes, though, she can sense trouble a mile away.

"When you have little children and you put a glass of water on the edge of the table and say, 'Don't touch that,' you know what's going to happen," she said. "Statistically, I can see it coming, but I would rather be doing this than anything else."

Why? Her love of fabric.

Ever since she was 2, Cartwright has been fascinated by the texture, feel and smell of different fabrics. As a young girl, she stitched a dress for herself and matching ones for her mother and sister, and, to date, remembers exactly what she wore at specific times in her life.

"I like to play with fabric," she said, glad that hers is not a 9-to-5 job. "It makes me happy."

Her beloved costumes travel in one of six semis that follow the "Sister Act" cast from one location to the next. Her hampers of clothes contain purple outfits for protagonist Deloris Wilson, nuns' robes and street and thug garb from the '70s. Since consistency is earmarked as a priority, scenery, props, lighting and other equipment make the trip, too.

"This is certainly a show where the costumes are integral to the story — whether it's the flashy Las Vegas-style gowns or the habits worn by the nuns," Dwyer said. "Much of the fun depends on the juxtaposition between them. And there is still something about the traditional nuns' habit that endears audiences to those characters and establishes a character just by wearing the habit."

For the finale, the cast goes "sparkalicious," Cartwright remarked, with miles and miles of sequins — to the extent that audiences have been forced to shield their eyes from the dazzle emanating from the stage.

Cartwright, who said she spends most of the year on the road, seems similarly dazzled — by her own life.

"I'm from a very small town," she said. "When I go back home, people ask me, 'How did you get that job?' I never thought I'd get the chance to do something so amazing."

If You Go

What: "Sister Act"

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday until Aug. 18

Where: Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: From $20

Information: or (714) 556-2787

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