Gypsy Robe: How My Family Became Part of an Evolving Community Canvas

The tradition of passing on a Gypsy Robe in musical theater productions apparently started on Broadway in 1950. It’s now a part of the Broadway production routine, with clear rules that everyone respects.

This tradition is also followed by other theater companies, including the youth theater group that my children participate in. In this company, the Robe is always given to a supporting actor who manifested a positive attitude throughout the rehearsal process, and who contributed to making the overall experience pleasant for everyone. In the previous show, A Christmas Story, which ended last November, my daughter was the proud recipient of the robe!

I’ve heared about the Robe over the years, of course, but I haven’t actually seen it until my daughter brought it home. When I laid eyes on it, I immediately appreciated the idea. A gypsy Robe, you see, is an evolving communal piece of art, onto which different people keep adding their mark over time!

This specific robe has already seen many shows, and had a great vibe of numerous kids’ fabulous experiences:

Patches representing different musicals covered it all over. These displayed different levels of artistic ingenuity, as well as varying degrees of sewing skills. Some were complex and well executed. Others were rather simple, both in idea and execution. But together they told the story of the youth theater, and represented the fun memories of the many kids who participated in those shows:

When the Robe came home, I assumed that the task of adding A Christmas Story patch to it would fall on me. I am, after all, the textile artist in the family! I was pleasantly surprised, however, when my daughter took responsibility for this. My husband enthusiastically came to her aid.

Of course, in a typical way, those two just couldn’t keep things simple!

They decided to make a patch with the show’s memorable leg-lamp. Not a regular patch of an appliqued lamp, but rather a three-dimensional one. They wanted to build a lamp that actually works!

My daughter made a paper prototype and attached it to the robe to see if it fits:

Then my husband did some research on materials that could lighten up. He ended up buying an Electroluminescent (EL) Light Panel:

It came with a wire on the back:

My husband cut it to shape:

The two then asked me to find a trim to go on the lampshade’s bottom. This was a great excuse to visit FabMo (and return with a little more than just a trim…)!

Little trimming

My daughter asked me to sew a leg based on the following model:

I found skin-colored fabric and cut a leg out:

I covered it with fish-net type tights that my daughter picked from a selection of sheers I found for her (she chose the black):

This is what it came out like:

I helped them connect the lampshade to the robe with Velcro, then sewed the leg on:

It came out exactly the way they hoped it would:

Once the lamp was in place, I had to sew a thin sleeve onto the inside of the robe, to hold the wire that went all the way from a battery (placed in the robe’s pocket) to the lampshade:

My daughter printed the name of the show on an iron-on paper. On the first try it came out mirror-image, as she forgot to read the instructions. The second try was successful. I ironed it on for her:

I didn’t realize (until it was too late), that there is a wire underneath, in addition to other bumpy patches. The surface, therefore, was not completely flat. I didn’t press the iron too hard, so as not to melt the wire. In addition, while ironing, the glue on one of the patches on the other side of the sleeve started melting, seeping into the fabric and smearing all over my ironing board! As you can imagine, the transfer didn’t come out so well:

My daughter was not happy AT ALL! She was upset it came out ugly. I was upset it ruined my ironing board.

She concluded it was all my fault, and hardly spoke to me for two days. Eventually, she decided to make a new patch, on which she wrote by hand with sharpies:

She wanted me to sew it on, but I wasn’t about to take on any additional risks. I made her do it herself.

This is how it turned out, glowing in the dark!

It was a collaborative family effort, in the end. Despite the few bumps along the way, I hope that after a few years my daughter will think back of the experience fondly.

Earlier this week my daughter passed the Robe on to the happy recipient of the current production. During the ceremony, she showed the glow-in-the-dark effect to the production team, and was oohed-and-aahed. Soon, the new recipient will put her own mark on the robe, and pass it on to someone else. Traditions, memories  and art will keep intermingling!


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How Hamilton Turned a Middle-aged Mom into a Paparazzi, and Why You Should See It, Too!

It’s been a year and a half since the Hamilton Craze swept over the land. Newspaper articles. Radio talk shows. Endless Facebook posts of friends posing with the famous murals. Meanwhile, here at home, the music has been playing non-stop over and over again, with my kids singing along, knowing every word.

I tried to resist it as long as I could. I am not fond of crazes, for one, nor am I especially into rap or hip hop. Whenever the kids played the music, I asked them to turn it off (or to at least lower the volume). I also repeatedly rebuffed their many pleas to go watch the show. 

They were quite persistent, however, as stubborn kids can be. Once they got their father on board I knew my case was lost.

Thus it happened that, over loud protests, I was recently dragged to watch Hamilton at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco.

I passed on posing solo in front of the murals, though I didn’t mind snapping shots of my offsprings. I didn’t buy a souvenir shirt or a printed cup. In fact, I went into the theater feeling rather skeptical.

Once inside, however, strange magic started spinning its web all around me. The audience’s anticipation was catching. Excitement was in the air, and it was physically tingling. The empty stage conveyed a secret promise.

Even the playbill had more allure than it usually does.

Finally the show began. It immediately drew me in, even though I didn’t know the history, the story line, or the words to the songs. The high energy was captivating. The voices were mesmerizing. The story itself was interesting. For the first time ever, I also found myself admiring a show’s lighting. The lights in this show were as physical as the stage props or the actors. They were a live part of the play.

Two hours and forty-five minutes passed in a blink. When it was over, I was left elated and awe-stricken. Not to mention curious to learn more American history…

We exited the theater, and saw people gathered around the stage door outside, waiting for the actors to come out.

My kids wanted to hang out as well. At this point, I was a lot more eager to surrender to their demands. So we waited. The crowds gasped every time the door opened. Then they exclaimed with disappointment when it was only a security guard or a member of the orchestra (I felt a bit sorry for members of the orchestra. They worked hard, too, I’m sure, but were hidden under the stage).

The actors dripped out slowly. They were greeted with loud cheers. Suddenly, in a matter of seconds, this reluctant, middle-aged mom turned into a greedy paparazzi!

I began snapping pictures of the actors, even of the ones I didn’t recognize from up close. From touching distance, they all seemed incredibly young. Much younger than they appeared from far away on the stage. In their modern outfits and without makeup, it was sometimes hard for me to tell who played who. And yet, there I was, clicking my camera away like there’s no tomorrow. I suddenly understood how my son must be feeling every time he goes Pokemon hunting. Except that instead of Larvitar or Dratini I “caught”:


King George (his acting was awesome!)

Thomas Jefferson (likewise!)

And also Hamilton himself, among others. This actor, Ryan Alvarado, was the standby, yet his acting was superb!:

All the actors were incredibly friendly and polite. They gave so many autographs that their hands must have gotten sore, yet they didn’t complain. The actors let people take selfies with them, and joked with young and old alike. They made quite a lot of people happy that day. My daughter, for one, will cherish her signed souvenir book for years to come.

People, if you haven’t seen this show yet, go see it! You don’t need to know American history to enjoy Hamilton, nor like rap or hip hop music. It’s truly amazing!