BWW Exclusive: Girl Gangs and Backstage Antics with the Backstage Blonde
Teale Dvornik is not easy to categorize.
On the one hand, she works in one of the least visible jobs in the theatre industry, as a dresser at Wicked on Broadway. On the other hand, she's quickly become one of the rising digital stars of the theatre industry. To her nearly nineteen thousand followers on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, she's the "Backstage Blonde," a unique hybrid of technical-theatre-geek, style expert, and cool-girl-influencer.
Aside from the growing Backstage Blonde brand, Dvornik is best known as part of the Gagged Girl Gang, the quartet of Broadway ladies who design the popular Gagged Chokers accessory line. Dvornik, along with Courtney Reed, LJ Wright, and Abby DePhillips, saw the opportunity to create something special, right at the intersection of juggernaut brands and one-of-a-kind creativity. Dvornik describes their diverse set of talents as "a perfect fit," as they designed, hand-made, and sold the chokers styled after favorite characters and other aesthetics. But, as time went on, it wasn't the chokers themselves that seemed to take center stage, but rather the women who made them.
'They loved the chokers, but they loved our friendship even more," Dvornik says as we discuss the history of the brand. Part of the paradox of the theatre industry is the gap between the intense competition for jobs in every sector and the highly collaborative nature of the entire industry. Outsiders and newcomers may tend to focus on the former aspect - it's certainly what is portrayed more often in media, after all. In contrast, the Gagged Girl Gang provides a picture of the creative industry at its best: people with different talents working together to create something as friends, not competitors. And with their growing visibility, they're modeling a positive way to work in the industry to their thousands of young fans, many of whom aspire to some job in the theatre world themselves.
The community is, in so many ways, what attracts young people to Broadway: the closer-knit nature of the industry, especially in contrast with the film and music industries, is part of the appeal. Young people follow backstage antics and the friendships that form between people who do a very unique job eight times a week, and the new generation of social-media-savvy stars has made it easier than ever for these fans to keep an eye on their favorites.
That being said, visibility in the theatre industry, nine times out of ten, is pretty limited to the stars onstage and, occasionally, the creative teams behind the work. Dvornik is blazing a new path that puts the behind-the-scenes workers front and center, with her blog and social media often giving insights into the day-to-day realities of backstage life. Even when she posts in a more traditional fashion-blogger way, it's never as popular as her theatre posts, in large part because she is, quite literally, the only person in the influencer-meets-theatre niche right now. The results, however, might not always be great for the ego.
"It doesn't matter how cool I look, in the middle of SoHo, in the coolest outfit, they only care about the pictures where I'm basically wearing no makeup and sweatpants, but I'm backstage," she comments wryly. It's funny, but true, and it's a testament to the uniqueness of her niche and the desire for this kind of unfiltered backstage content. After all, there's a certain magic to seeing behind the scenes, especially with a guide who's equal parts playful and knowledgeable. Somehow, the whole thing feels more authentic, not staged.
Authenticity is at the heart of what sets Dvornik (and her brands) apart. When discussing Gagged, she calls it "more of a community feel than a manufactured consumer [product]," and that's part of its charm: even at peak times, all of the chokers are handmade by the ladies - one of their taglines is "made by a princess," referencing Reed's claim to fame as Broadway's Princess Jasmine. But it goes way beyond that, with Dvornik striving to create a space that encourages young women to be their authentic selves. We've all had our Instagram feeds flooded by liketoknowit links and #sponsored posts, with that over-polished feel that half makes you envious and half makes you frustrated that such obvious branding makes you envious. Dvornik keeps it refreshingly personal.
"Would I wear this piece of clothing on a daily basis? Would my best friend be proud to be walking around in this?" she asks, describing how she develops her merchandise. It's not about algorithms to determine what will sell or pandering to the next big thing, but more about finding that sweet spot where Broadway geekery meets style. She's your cool big sister more than the girl you're jealous of on Instagram, and her twist on the "New York fashion blogger/influencer" genre is based on adding that playful Broadway flavor to it all, with all its glamour (and the un-self-conscious lack of glamour too).
"It's been cool to be able to write these blog posts as kind of the 'big sister.' That's probably been the most unexpected part: the amazing relationships I've been able to form with fans all around the world... None of [the work] matters if I'm not helping people, if I'm not making the world a better place. I really want to be an encouragement to people, and a light."
Looking at Dvornik and her Backstage Blonde brand, one can see a glimpse of how Broadway is evolving to connect with the modern age of social media and interconnectivity. Theatre has always been the most interactive, connected form of entertainment, both onstage and off. The give-and-take relationship between performers and live audiences, combined with the casual ease of meet-and-greet stage-door traditions, has a long and storied history that allows for direct contact and feedback between insiders and audiences.
This isn't necessarily new: many Broadway performers use the nature of the industry and of social media to give advice and encouragement to the huge number of young, aspiring performers who make up a large chunk of the fanbase. But the visible activity is heavily skewed towards would-be and current performers, leaving young people with an eye on technical theatre without any visible role models.
"So many people don't even know that my job is real, which is wild!" Dvornik comments with a laugh. While the popular imagination might consider behind-the-scenes jobs as almost a consolation prize, Dvornik, like many others, never aspired to be onstage; creating the backstage magic has always been her calling. For all the young people who feel more at home with a sewing machine or a spotlight than singing and dancing onstage, Dvornik's growing presence can be a source of inspiration and reassurance that, yes, it's possible, and, yes, the joy of the theatre isn't just limited to performers. The Backstage Blonde opens a window into what a career in technical theatre can look like, with a side helping of life advice and genuine connection. It's the new frontier of where the community of Broadway meets social media and a heretofore-unseen side of that community, and "thank goodness" for that!