Despite designing outfits for the likes of Madonna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Meryl Streep, fashion designer Chris March will forever be known as "that guy from season four of Project Runway." And he's okay with that because it's that very show which made the gregarious March a household name.
The San Francisco-native has also had a prosperous career as a theatrical costume designer, creating dresses and hats for the long-running Bay Area revue Beach Blanket Babylon. He arrived in New York in 2001, where he quickly garnered praise for his theatrical designs, including a Drama Desk Award nomination for his work on the 1940's drag spectacular, Christmas with the Crawfords.
March returns to the world of theater with The Butt-Cracker Suite, a purposefully kitschy, trailer-trash rendition of The Nutcracker, running through December 30 at HERE. Prior to the start of previews, TheaterMania attended a rehearsal for a sneak peek at the show, and has compiled a photo gallery of moments as they appeared in the rehearsal room versus how they look on stage. And, as previews began, we caught up with the larger-than-life March, who not only produced, created, and designed the show, but also stars as the female child protagonist, Clara.
When did you first encounter The Nutcracker?
I think it was in 1977. I came to New York for Christmas, and I saw the American Ballet Theater version. I think maybe Baryshnikov was even in it back then.
What did you think of the costumes in that production?
They were incredibly beautiful. And classic.
How did The Butt-Cracker Suite come to be?
It's an idea that I had for a long time. I was in Christmas with the Crawfords with Joey Arias. I did that for six years, so I have a holiday show mentality a little bit. One day, I had this idea about dancing beer cans and Spam and dancing laundry lines, but kept it on the back burner in my head for a long time. And then this year after Mad Fashion on Bravo, I wanted to get back to my theater roots, so I thought maybe I could do this. I didn't have enough time or money for an open ended run, so I started looking for theaters, and Here Arts Center just fell into my lap, with the exact right dates open.
How would you describe the costumes?
Like everyone describes my costumes: they're big, they're bright, colorful, and over the top. They definitely have a sense of humor. And they're as much as the actors will put up with. That's my breaking point.
What pieces of pop culture did you use in designing the show?
Basically any kind of trailer park cliché like pink flamingos, Spam…I've done the show so many times that I forget what's in it. Beer cans, there's a whole bunch of candy because of course Clara wants candy, and it comes from 7-11 girls. We do have our semi-religious moments, since it is a Christmas holiday show. Our set is a big giant trailer with a whole bunch of junk all over the place, like old broken toys of Clara's. Ours is not quite as lovely as the ABT version, but we're special in our own way.
We're seeing a lot of foam in these photos—what other fabrics and found objects are used?
I used a few things. The Spam products are made out of Spam Hats. The hubcap on the tire of the trailer is a salad bowl. Clara sits on an old toilet in the yard. We used a few cheese heads for cheese for the rat king. We have a remote control rat mobile. I used some band jackets that I found. And the Nutcracker's first hat is a garbage can.
How raunchy is this Butt-Cracker?
Not very. We try to keep it for 14 and up. It's not for little kids, but there's nothing bad in it at all.
Would you bring your Grandmother to The Butt-Cracker Suite?
Yeah…if your grandmother is Pamela Anderson! (Laughs)
How did you approach casting, and what do you think of this group of dancers?
My theory behind the whole thing is that it's legitimate dancing of all types, but focusing on ballet done by talented people, not done in a bad or jokey way. We have good dancing with funny costumes in funny and clever situations. We had to choose people who got the joke kind of and were willing to go there. We spotted them pretty much right away. The girl, Sara Brophy, who plays my mother, was actually born in a trailer, so she was qualified. One of our actresses is that National Baton Twirling Champion, so we used that.
What other holiday classic would you like to redesign and put a spin on?
A modern-y version of It's A Wonderful Life would be fun. I would try to think of some current person in the media who might need that kind of a lesson – like Lindsay Lohan.
Are you sick of being known as "Chris March from Project Runway" yet?
Not at all. I know some other people who feel that way. I have to accept the fact that the time I was on, Project Runway was already becoming a pop culture phenomenon. You know how Bette Midler always says her obituary will read "Bette Midler dies. Started her career at the Continental Baths?" Mine will say "Chris March died. He was on season 4 of Project Runway." It's an amazing show, it did a lot for me, and I'm fine with it. Unless it becomes terribly disreputable. When I was on Project Runway, my website got a million hits a month, and there's nothing bad you can say about that. And as one of the producers said, "Never underestimate the power of television."