Most people will never stand onstage at a sold-out First Avenue show. They'll never see the whites of 2,000 eyeballs at their feet, or feel the heat from searing spotlights on their backs. Most people will never strut confidently to a spot downstage and have a moment to think, What the hell am I supposed to be doing up here?
As a model for Voltage, I'm lucky enough to experience what many up-and-coming musicians have only imagined. I feel the heat. I see the eyes. I have my moment of pure, almost existential panic. In other words, Voltage is a smashing success.
For models and crewmembers, the night begins at 3:30 in the afternoon—which is a little like a teacher showing up for school at 3:30 a.m. I enter First Avenue through the side door, feeling like a celebrity trying to avoid throngs of paparazzi. Minus the throngs and the paparazzi. There's a check-in table set up near the entrance where I pick up a lanyard that says MODEL and sling it around my neck.
The mainroom looks funny during the day. There aren't many windows, so the entire club is dim, and the floor has been swept clean of beer bottles and fliers. Upstairs, the VIP room serves as the models' changing area, sectioned off according to designer. There are a couple of chairs and tables for each group, barely enough room for a rack of clothes. Models lounge on the plastic seats, dressed casually in tight jeans and skimpy tank tops, waiting for instructions. They look up at me as I walk in, and I imagine that every girl who enters the room will receive a similar once-over.
Brushes, palettes and tubes litter a makeup table in the corner of the room. I can hear Soul Coughing coming from behind the bar. Paper signs mark each designer's area; I spot Labrador—one of my designers—and throw my bag on the corresponding table. It's 3:30 on the dot and I'm the first one here. I find the tiny cloisters for George Moskal and Anne Selden, my other designers, but no one is around. If I were ever to become a professional model, I'd need to learn to be late.
If I've learned anything over the past two months, it's that modeling is often bewildering. Stylists and designers know exactly what to do: beautify the models and drape them with clothes. But we models are clueless when we're not on the runway or in the makeup chair. For the most part, we hang out backstage and try to entertain ourselves.
Di, my makeup artist for the LookBook photo shoot informs me that I'm supposed to be getting primped. I traipse over to the second floor bar, which has been transformed into a makeshift beauty parlor. Stylists surround the countertops, armed with aerosols and sponges, and spill out along the ledge overlooking the mainroom. Models fill each chair, perching upright like frozen statues. I find a sign that says Labrador, plop down on a stool, and meet Jessi, my makeup artist.
The look for Labrador is summery, with lots of gold and yellow. Jessi hums a Beach Boys tune as she dabs pink cream on my cheeks, imitating a slight sunburn. We discuss makeup, and she raves over her favorite product, a melon shimmer from Mac.
"I'm gonna get married in this blush," she says. "This blush is my life."
Twenty minutes later, I scoot over a seat and Sandra starts in on my hair. I see two other female Labrador models sporting curls, so I know what's in store for my mane.
"Do you like the smell of the hair spray?" Sandra says as she engulfs my head in aerosol. I sneeze. "Yeah, it's okay."
Vanessa is getting her hair done in the chair next to mine. "I've been in a ton of fashion shows, and my brother hasn't come to any," she complains into her cell phone. Vanessa is a model for Vision, one of the agencies working with Voltage. She's done shoots for Target and occasional prom runway shows. "They're not huge like this," she tells me, "but they pay really well."
After I'm fully fluffed and painted, I find the dinner we've been promised on the downstairs bar. It consists of turkey wraps, grapes, melons, broccoli, and carrots. For beverages, there's a choice of water or energy drinks.When I last modeled in Voltage a few years back, the dinner offering was pizza. Needless to say, in this crowd, it didn't move.
Barrett Johanneson, my Labrador designer, shows up with shoes for Vanessa. He and Anna, his assistant, spent the afternoon "running around the mall like squirrels." Anna hands me a tiny yellow sundress and I quickly change clothes, ignoring the fact that I'm in a roomful of six-dozen people. Johanneson fusses over my pumps, which are a bit too large. We compensate with heel inserts and ball cushions, and voila—they fit.
I meander over to George Moskal's area, where he's draping a grey gown on a tall blonde. We discuss my outfit and I start gushing over a honey yellow silk scarf on one of the hangers. It's from London, he says, and used to be his mother's. "Oh, cool," I say. "Is she going to be here tonight?"